Change is in the air for White Hinterland: a new home in Portland, a new bandmate, new instruments (the piano is given the old heave-ho), and a new palette of sound. Though Kairos is Exhibit A of a very different White Hinterland, this is by no means the electro makeover/Goldfrappization of frontwoman Casey Deniel. She (and creative foil Shawn Creeden) uses the new tools at her disposal sparely and surely, creating a meditative and deliberate space similar to the work David Sylvian did on his stellar Brilliant Trees album or maybe Kate Bush at her best (or even Thom Yorke’s The Eraser.) It’s inscrutable and incredibly transparent all at once, with often only atmospheric synth chords and the whipcrack of a mechanical snare drum accompanying her voice, her vocals doubletracked or tripletracked to harmonize with herself like a company of wolves. The best part is the electronics; the synths and Casios and rudimentary drum machines are all so minimal and so (deceptively) basic that it opens up a whole new world of the possibility. (I CAN do this!) At least until selfsame listener is floored by Deniel’s vocals, an unrestrained and unholy melange of Lisa Gerrard, Nina Simone, and Chan Marshall.
“Bow & Arrow” switches from toybox Residents/Björk whimsy in a dramatic upshift to smoldering Stax funk, wandering away to some lonely fogswept vista, and then right back into the dance party. I love the Martin Revisms in “Moon Jam” and the Kate Bush meets Brian Eno/Missy Elliot-isms of “Cataract.” The keyboards are like a reflective lizard, the pacing is a stoned stumble, and her arclight vocals in the chorus are a killer. “Thunderbird” dabbles in some hip-hop tropes as well, like some narcotic mix of early Tricky and Madlib, the drumbeat sounds like a foot digging into gravel, the “synths” are her voice tracked together into a looping gospel swoon, and over that she romps and vamps. “Magnolias” is a strange, wondrous mix of tiny guitar fingerpicks and outsized, unrestrained vocals that burst out of the barebones of the “song” leavened with a Gaellic sultriness.
Here be ghosts.
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