To the world, Kelsey Lu is an American singer and cellist from North Carolina. To me, she is an enigma.
I found Kelsey Lu’s music just when I needed her; to some, that may be a coincidence, a mere result of the inner workings of Spotify and their ‘based on your music tastes’ section. To me, however, it was fate, and I’m pretty sure Kelsey Lu would agree.
Choosing to simply go by ‘Lu’, Lu grew up with a strict Jehovah witness upbringing, of which she’s pretty open about. Feeling restricted due to her faith, she decided to leave – running away at age 18 to go to University of North Carolina School of Arts. Lu talks about how music was her literal savour, documenting how she sat outside of a teacher’s practise room for hours, just so he could watch her play. Despite her tumultuous upbringing,, Lu was always surrounded by music. Artists such as Nina Simone and Janis Joplin were frequent echoes from the walls of her house, and both of her parents being musicians, It seems that music must run in her blood. Which, coincidentally, is the title for her debut feature-length album.
With Lu’s music being defined as ‘Chamber Pop’, her music is all about flow. With her angelic vocals gliding alongside her harmonic dreamlike tracks, I’m transported to a different dimension. Floating on Cloud Nine, the plucking of her cello is the only thing tethering me to reality. But then – the chord is suddenly snapped. Lu changes pace, like in ‘Dreams’, the first track of her EP Church. After we’re taunted with a lengthy intro and haunting vocals, at seven minutes, the track skips and drowns out, as if she turned the pitch all the way down. This is the same for ‘Poor Fake’ from her sophomore album Blood. Beginning with a melody of strings, it seems the path this song will take will be a slow one until a few piano keys gratefully welcome a disco jam. It seems that with every elegant and dreamlike note, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. But, when it does, you realise that it couldn’t have been anything else.
With her debut album being produced with eclectic people such as Jamie XX, Rodaidth Mcdonald and Skrillex (who also remixed her track ‘Due West’) Blood is an emotional journey. Beginning with the nostalgic track ‘Rebel’, We’re immediately introduced to Lu’s cello and a construct of strings, before her ethereal voice takes hold of your soul.
“‘Rebel’, the first song […] it’s about my parents. My mums white, my dads black and they met in the ’60s. [It’s] about them rebelling against the constructs of a racist society, and then for me, rebelling against the way that they raised me to be.”
And that seems to be it, a rebellion. Some songs are angsty, such as ‘Foreign Car’, where she switches up the gender norm and objectifies a man through her lyrics, describing a man like a car she wants to drive. Or some are hopeful, such as ‘Blood’, with vibrato belting lyrics such as ‘History has taught us hope/hope is the answer/yes it is’. For me, ‘Due West’, the third track of the album, is the gem. I feel a bittersweet nostalgia for a future I haven’t yet lived. Multiple fictions fill my brain as I paint an image from her harmonic melodies, the song building behind lyrics about a metaphorical home. Calling this song “a continuation of the evolution of self.” it does just that, evolving as it melts into the next track ‘KINDRED I’.
Yet before Blood, there was Church. This EP was recorded live in a church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn while Lu was touring with the band Wet, as their opening act. Church opens with ‘Dreams’, which is my favourite song by Lu. Noting before the lengthy intro, while listening to ‘Dreams’, you can feel her urgency, but you’re alone for over seven minutes, lost in the cacophony of noise. When Lu begins to sing, you’re filled with a sense of relief, but it’s dispelled as she sings ‘Feels like I’ve got the Holy Ghost/I’m losing all my/I’m losing all my control’. It’s magic, that’s the best way to describe it. Heartbreaking, ethereal magic.
This song is my kryptonite.
Recently Lu has been busy on Hydroharmonica, a nature soundscape series that features remixes from her debut album Blood. She’s also been a part of ‘Homemade: an online poetry reading for the people’ by Aja Monet and has a new single titled ‘Morning Dew’. I listened to ‘Morning Dew’ right as I woke up, which, wasn’t exactly the morning, but I guess it still counts. This song is no different from Lu’s haunting discography, in fact, I can hear reverberations from previous tracks such as ‘Shades of Blue’ and ‘Pushin Against The Wind’, but it’s beautiful in its own unique way.
Lu has also been vocal on her Instagram, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, promoting Gofundmes for homeless trans women of colour and writing poetry about racism. For more information on the cause that we, here at CUBMagazine also support, visit the Black Lives Matter site, sign petitions and if possible, donate.