Being able to sift through the masses of music easily accessible via the Internet to locate songs and sounds that hit you straight in the gut is a tricky business. A platitude, I know, but one that should not be forgotten, one that needs to be returned to again and again to better understand the ways in which we listen and listening are overcome or underwhelmed. There is a lot of luck involved, even for the most adept and thoroughgoing seekers. For a musician or producer, especially those willing to change and allow themselves to wander into new territory, the proposition is even more daunting. The balance between personal intuition and the effects of the clouds of music that one passes through is mysterious and something that must be both controlled and allowed to operate by irrational linkages and chance confrontations.
White Hinterland’s new record, Kairos, is a case in point. Casey Dienel, the center and voice of the project, hinted at her ability to shape shift with her Luniculaire EP-six covers of French songwriters, including Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy-as well as her tour-only Fresh from the Garden 7-inch which included a stripped-back version of Arthur Russell’s “Lucky Cloud” and a dirge-like take on Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” The latter especially prefigured the sound and methods of Kairos, a record remarkable for the way it sews together minimal, often machine-like elements, and Dienel’s soulful, expansive vocals. The record is a collaboration with bandmate Sean Creeden, and heavily relies on looped percussion and the incorporation of acousmatic sounds, sounds the source of which one can often only guess at.
The result is a record that zig-zags between full, flowing soundscapes (as on balmy opener, “Icarus”) and raw, skeletal (but no less evocative) songs like the spectral “Thunderbird” and the dizzy, downbeat “Amsterdam.” The press release tags the new sound as “Art & B,” a handle that rightfully suggests an affinity to contemporaries like Dirty Projectors, tUnE-YarDs and the xx. The interplay of Dienel’s vocals, stark, cold electronics, and rich, sun-spotted atmospherics also brings to mind Vespertine (most notably on “Huron” and “Amsterdam”) and El Perro del Mar’s Love Is Not Pop. But Kairos is less melancholic and more psychedelic, often trading in the same hypnotizing repetition as Angel Deradoorian’s underrated 2009 solo EP, Mind Raft. The bleak, gray percussion programming nods toward the dystopian clangor of dubstep in a manner, surprisingly, quite similar to that displayed by Gil Scott-Heron’s recent return, I’m New Here.
White Hinterland’s sound has skewed decidedly toward the edges of the map, while Casey Deniel’s vocal turns often incorporate shapes and mannerisms from mainstream R&B, lending a streamlined grace to their inspired patchwork. Things are at times sketchy, a little too stitched together feeling, and a few songs spend some time plowing fairly dull ground. But they always seems to be revived by the entrance of a new string of sounds, or an about face of Dienel’s vocal tactics. It is genuinely exciting to listen to this record and feel so firmly the duo behind it experimenting with the potential of the machines and instruments they are working with.