Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s EARS is a dense, swirling explosion of samples, synthesizers and chanted vocals that reminds us of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch at its most playful and ecstatic. Since her previous album Euclid, Smith’s songs have become looser, but also more confident, making more prominent use of her lovely vocals.
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The sounds Kaitlyn has produced for "Ears", her second album, are an intriguing and compelling synthesis of electronics, woodwind and her own shimmering voice. Smith recorded and studied bird calls prior to the composition of these pieces; this shows in her music's sense of lightness and momentum, layers of looped woodwind frequently popping up amongst the sparse but exotic sounds of multiple synth oscillations. Opening track "First Flight" does bear a fleeting resemblance to Floating Points' astonishing and similarly avian-themed work from last year, on "Elaenia".
"Stratus" caresses the ears with looped and entwined clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone; simple, effective... Magical. Central to the work is the influence of minimal composers -- Reich, Glass and Riley -- Kaitlyn using the space to augment her atmospheres with lush electronics evocative of tropical wetlands. The sound palette is rich and vibrant with swells of Kaitlyn's voice and flutters of woodwind propping up and underscoring the exotic, warm and sultry air which envelops the record.
If I close my eyes, I could almost be in Leeds' very own Tropical World. But I won't... I have deadlines, you know.
9/10 Simon 12th January 2017
I’m new to the music of KAS, but thought I would give this album a listen after Norman made it their #1 of 2016. It’s a piece of work which is as singular as it is impressive. There are influences, certainly: the vocal processing effect which appears on opening track ‘First Flight’ and recurs throughout the album brings to mind Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Returnal’, but this is a far more structured and song-focused work.
Particularly striking is how seamlessly Smith blends electronic instrumentation with more classical or organic sounds: on ‘Envelop’, for instance, brass and woodwind flourishes mingle with synthesizer to create an atmosphere something like Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens jamming with Emeralds.
‘Arthropoda’ is a highlight, as Smith offers an Enya-like incantation over a constantly rising synth figure, and while it’s difficult to confidently decode the lyrics under the effects, the vocals manage to effectively convey the idea of a journey (to my ears, she seems to sometimes be on an ‘onward boat’ and occasionally on an ‘endless slope’ to somewhere).
The closing track, ‘Existence in the Unfurling’, fully justifies its 11-minute running time, and the one line I can make out encapsulates this album nicely: ‘sounds like fun’. This is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the record, that for all its intricacy and craft, it never loses a sense of fun. Smith has found a balance between the studied and the instinctive, and in doing so carved out a space of her own within electronic music.
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