Leven Kali's Sophomore Album, "HIGHTIDE" is a Mellow Summer Soul Masterpiece
Evan Dale // May 2, 2020
Leven Kali has never wasted our time. He’s never put out a bad track. He’s never done anything that didn’t immediately reset a listener’s mood to one shrouded in sunshiny vibes and sexual healing for a new generation. And now, a year removed from his debut album, Low Tide, the California R&B star is back with its follow-up of an elevated nature. HIGHTIDE is the culmination of a lot of recent work from Leven Kalli who has been dropping a collection of feature-laced singles for the better part of six months. All three of them – Homegirl featuring Topaz Jones & Smino, 12345 (Get Real), and most recently, Perfect is Boring with Ty Dolla $ign – find their rightful place in the album. And with the addition of eight new tracks (and a couple skit intermissions), the world is strapped with happy-go-lucky R&B anthems for the foreseeable warm-weather months, and a key, perfected R&B album for all of the foreseeable future.
From the moment the chopped & screwed play and quick change of pace lead us into the explosive introduction of FIRE IN UR EYES, there’s an undeniable sense that Leven Kali is here and once again back to show off the artistic growth he’s undergone over the last year. Fit with funky 70’s slappy bass, an homage to the baby-maker anthem greats of the past is apparent, and solidifies his well-roundedness as an R&B great of the Tinder generation, whose music soundtracks only the most carnal of meetings, but makes them feel like romance didn’t really die with the invention of dating apps.
The timelessness of that feat is probably one that soul singers have been able to kindle for every generation when the youth feel their respective time is the least sultry to date. In reality, if this time was able to create the R&B lovechild that is Leven Kali, then romance may actually be at its comfiest peak. After all, Leven Kali’s music is all about soundtracking sex in accompaniment of the cuddles to come after.
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Leven Kali’s music that another collaboration with Syd was due up sooner than later. After all, Do U Wrong is really the track that got his solo career to the kind of sonic space and popular maturity allowing of his current growth and continuous explosion. It’s therefore no surprise that MADE 4 U is HIGHTIDE’s standout. The song title itself is brimming with multiple layers. The two have the sort of Tammi Terrel & Marvin Gaye chemistry only so expectedly successful once in a generation. The track itself is an early-2000’s inspired R&B anthem that’s as family-friendly and sweet as it is a raw sex anthem depending on who is listening and when they’re listening to it.
Where Low Tide was a debut album that – in spite of Leven Kali’s undeniable veteran status in the pop oriented Neo-Soul game – showed the youth of its creator, HIGHTIDE is a faultless masterpiece thriving with the less-is-more non-constraints of vibrant, au-natural expressionism. Tracks like RICH GIRL and VIDA’S SONG (STILLNESS) – which is really more of the overarching album’s intermission – boil over with emotion and creativity without a lot of the insensitive over-production that made Low Tide an exhibition of futurist – not timeless – R&B.
Ty Dolla $ign was the perfect complement to Leven Kali’s sound when PERFECT IS BORING found its position as the leading single to HIGHTIDE’s release. And in the album’s heart and center, following the intermissionary VIDA’S SONG, it plays a role as the introduction to a B-Side of sorts where the softer textural edge of Leven Kali is on more fervent display than ever before. DAY AFTER THE RAIN is an acoustic, minimalist song we needed from Kali who so often caters to his more poppy production tendencies, but whose sound has always been fit for the instrumental mellowness of a track like it. Like his generational Neo-Soul compatriots, Leven Kali’s adherence to a more analogue approach from time to time speaks volumes to his epochal awareness and lack of trend association.
The other three new additions that makeup the better part of HIGHTIDE’s B-Side coalesce into the album’s smoothest run and most laid-back moment. And truly, HIGHTIDE as a whole emanates out from that core delineation of its soundscape.
HIGHTIDE is the thesis work of a young R&B star-on-the-rise that speaks first to his dedication to growing as an artist; second to his obsessive work to formulate a congruent project; and third to an idea that we already knew: Leven Kali is one of modern R&B’s most important young names for his ability to introduce more pop oriented listeners to the raw, emotional beauty of R&B and Neo-Soul throughout. His sophomore album is an exhibition of growth and maturity, and undoubtedly his best collection of any length to date if for no other reason than that top to bottom, HIGHTIDE is the kind of project that asks for nothing but to be played through entirely. Like his canon at large, there is not a track on the project to skip. But unlike any of his work to date, every track on HIGHTIDE is a necessary, curated addition to the work at large.