Kelsey Lu takes her time. The notes she plays on her cello are relaxed in the way only a master can make intensely hard work seem relaxing. All of her musical phrasing, whether sung or played, is drawn out. Her voice often stretches high and long on unexpected words. All of that sonic buildup, paired with the compelling visuals Lu uses in her music videos, and press photos, point to a performer who demands that her listeners lean in and pay attention to the grand and sweeping as well as the minute and intricate. Here’s the stunning video for “Dreams,” off of last year’s debut EP Church:
Lu demands attention because she pays attention. She’s politically active, especially surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, a model interested in toppling the current system of modeling, and she spent the several years prior to her solo EP as a supporting artist for acts like Blood Orange and Young Turks. She also grew up unable to play the music she wanted to, a restriction which served to focus her ambition. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Lu auditioned for a scholarship to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts without telling her parents, left the church (and her home) when her parents found out she had enrolled and forced her to choose, and has thus built her career founded on the principle of trusting herself utterly. Which is why the time she takes to play her music, to sing, and even to speak, it is so deliberate and powerful a move. Lu is an artist who has had to sacrifice greatly to make the art she felt called to make. But instead of rushing to get her sound into the world, she releases work as she thinks it’s finished. So great (and justified!) is her belief in her own talent and her own goals, she is comfortable making us wait for it. Her sound, and her attitude toward creation, seem to be ones the world could use lately, and I’m hoping the wait for more is almost over.