Feature photo courtesy of @iamkelseylu
As much as I write about music, I am no musician. But I know when I’m in love.
Kelsey Lu plays the cello. This is something that is at once at the core of her music and something one might easily glaze over without diving further into her background. You might miss that she is a string musician, and instead extrapolate that someone -- or something -- else is behind the haunting melodies of her songs. But one way or another, the resonance of the cello are at the very heart of her songs, whether as the strong, powerful long notes in “Foreign Car” or the pizzicato in the beginning of “Rebel.”
Cellist, singer, and songwriter Lu first found love in the cello before moving to write her own melodies and lyrics. Beginning as a studio musician, she’s lent her sound to the likes of Blood Orange, Solange, and Florence and the Machine. But it was only in 2019 that Lu released her first album, Blood. It was this album that I stumbled upon on my recommended list after realizing that it was her cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” that played in the background of one of my favorite scenes in Euphoria (I know, I wish I’d found her sooner). To be honest, I didn’t really like “I’m Not in Love” the first few times I listened to it. There is a long break in “I’m Not In Love” before she starts singing again that initially bothered me. But the more I sink into it, the more I feel like Lu is transporting me into a different sphere-- like the way a kaleidoscope would sound. Slowly, the song made its way into my rotation--before I went to bed, when I was walking to the subway, when I was feeling kind of blue--and Lu’s Blood became the first playlist I played at work.
This slow adjustment to Lu’s music runs parallel to the journey that her melodies take me on: they start slow, pick up, and then slow back down again. Each song seems a separate story, and Lu’s music echoes their dramatic arcs. From the slow build-up in “Why Knock for You” to the bridge/monologue in “Poor Fake,” I was hooked onto the way Lu tells a story. As if taking you on a journey, she writes the story with a beginning, climax, and resolution. “Foreign Car” starts off strong, but Lu still takes a break to bring us the climax before the end of the piece. Many songs choose, instead, a poetic and meandering route towards the end.
As much as I write about music, I am no musician, and I can’t name every specific musical intricacy in Lu’s melodies that so elevates it. But what I feel is the emotional journey that she takes me on through her candid lyrics and powerful vocals. From “Atlantic,” her poetic lyrics and siren-like vocals haunted me for days. The melancholy sounds of the cello that launch her single “Shades of Blue” sets up the emotional state of acceptance--that strange limbo no one talks about, but to which Lu openly says: “I’m not over you / but I’m over feeling shades of blue.” Such a simple line depicts a mountain of emotions, the uncertain place of wanting to move on but being unable to. She paints images such as these in her songs, creating such elegant synesthesia as I listen to her classic and experimental tunes. There is a timeless quality to her music, supplemented by the classical sounds of the cello, but the incorporation of modern beats creates something something else entirely. Add Lu’s emotional and melodic voice, and her music in totality has an alchemy of its own.
Haunting and hypnotic, Lu guides her audience into her sound. It might take you some time to get used to it like I did, but that is because Lu’s sound is so unique and special that you’ve never conjured its existence as something imaginable.
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