Boudoir Blues: Notes on Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.

To experience Teyana Taylor is an intoxicating adventure unto itself.  Poised and sculptured with sphinxlike regalia, she is one of those compelling creatures of any era whom ignite fascination amidst all they dare cross – a potent mixture of cunning, confidence, style, and sensuality that stretches across media, mediums, and formats through a wave of grace and symmetry.  Within her lies a sense of a reckless abandon, a restless excitement, a fervent desire, as if a delicious, capricious storm nestled in a bottle, ready to provoke wonders and terribles alike.  Whether or not she is chiefly aware of this radiance, Teyana has come to exemplify a sense of unabashed modernity that has been sorely missed in a musical environment overstuffed with carefully-crafted curators of taste.  It is in her brash, brutal honesty.  It is in her smooth, sumptuous stare.  It is in her cool, courageous moves.  And while her progressive first album, VII, may have introduced this entrancing persona of impeccable soul, it is her latest album, Keep That Same Energy (K.T.S.E.), that captures such sublimity with a fuller, grander realization.

Drenched in the crisp, yellowed majesty often unearthed in ancient vinyl collections, K.T.S.E. is a millennial recreation of a funk-laden past, a decadent, rapturous ode to the abundance of romance, the thrill of experimentation, the pleasure of self-care, and the mastery of freedom.  Through a slick, spellbinding rush of 22 minutes, we are taken into the mind-boggling neuroses of a chief seductress, untamed and unashamed in her necessities, spouting her beliefs and liberations as if gentle, nocturnal revelations, forging a perplexed stream-of-consciousness that becomes increasingly mystical and mystifying.  Here, she amplifies pillow talk into poetry, horniness into sanctity, and intercourse into revelation, pocketing our often-meaningless, animalistic whims into golden threads of luxury.  And yet, whilst embarking upon this incandescent sex odyssey, one at once feels the sumptuous splendor of true, indescribable love permeating through, garnishing each subsequent gem with a sincerity and charm that evades any possible shred of vulgarity.

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Much of this amorous grandeur is achieved through Teyana’s raw, silk-sodden voice.  Hers is one full of honeyed husk, refined rasp, and gorgeous gentility, able to shift between mournful yearns and explosive euphoria with artful ease.  She does not waste time attempting to manipulate our minds with a showcase of dizzying acrobatics, yet instead keenly focuses on embodying the same air of naked emotion that has been the hallmark of some of the most intriguing and breathtaking blues performers.  In truth, with its mixture of dexterous lovemaking and simplistic ambitions, Keep That Same Energy is perhaps one of the most effortless inversions of the blues genre that has emerged out of the Teens Decade, utilizing Teyana’s noirish vocals to an electrifying degree.  It is within the suspense-laden, mob-encrusted operetta of “Rose in Harlem,” its torturous beams of betrayal and loyalty flashing in chilling dread with every maniacal, symphonic shriek.  It is within “Gonna Love Me,” a near-sorrowful confession of reciprocated acceptance and affection in the face of unspeakable adversity, a tremendous loss of ego blanketed by the need to be held.  It is within the poignant, space-age hypnosis of “Issues/Hold On,” the awesome, unnerving epiphany of one’s romantic failures equating to one’s history colliding against a cartoonish army of arcade sparks.  Upon even the warmest of the album’s trim 8 tracks, there is an overwhelming sense of emotion, a hidden layer of sadness that packs a marvelous punch.

Who else could turn the illustrious boudoir fantasy of having a threesome into a slow-burning religious awakening?  Who else could transform the amusement tawdriness of “WTP” into a bold, psychedelic ride of sociopolitical theatrics?  Though slightly out of place, it is the latter that perhaps best captures the most adventurous atmospheres of K.T.S.E., coolly aligning Teyana with her spiritual forebearer Grace Jones whilst bowing with respect to the black ball culture which seems to have been created and inspired by both fearless, impassioned women.  The frenetic, outrageous cousin to executive producer Kanye West’s “Fade,” a house-laden song whose beguiling, iconic clip launched the first true glimpse into the current enigma that is Ms. Taylor, “WTP” ends the album in a colossal, heart-stopping haze, extracting the stark blues that preceded it with renewal and rebirth.  It is also a reminder of the brevity of K.T.S.E., creating in its own way, a desire to hear much more from the soulful seductress, a desire for the album to continue on with more excitement and beauty and chill.

In truth, of all the five albums Kanye produced and released throughout 2018, K.T.S.E. may, in fact, be the most enchanting.  It may not marinate in dramatic, innovative risks; however, it is still an intricate, intimate, well-woven mosaic detailing the endless multitude of illusions, devotions, and dreams of love.  One feels deeply aware and privy, as if sauntering through Teyana’s thoughts and ideas in the same rhythms and paces, untangling the complexities of her hunger and cravings in absolute tandem.  At times, this can exude a voyeuristic confusion, of feeling as if there is too much shared or known or discovered.  Yet, in the same breath, such revelations gleam with even brighter humanity and spirit, crisscrossing over our own, allowing us to feel as if we are one.  With the retro-tinged futurism of K.T.S.E., Teyana Taylor emerges as one of the most startling talents of the current Pop landscape, possessing us with an exquisite elegance that never seems to quit.

About Marsalis

poet of pop.
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