Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s latest release comes to show how deeply natural and human electronic music can get. Her latest album, Ears, shows starting with the cover, the extremely vivid parallel world only a handful of elements can create. The album consists mostly of sounds generated by a Buchla modular synth, accompanied here and there by wind instruments and her own voice, an extremely winning combination with a surprisingly earthy effect.
Smith, who is a classically trained guitarist and pianist, started playing around with synthesis after borrowing her neighbor’s Buchla system, and so completely fell in love with the process of programming it, that she abandoned her previous indie folk outfit and focused on her solo, electronic project. Since then she has had a number of releases, either focused on ambiental, meditational aspects (Tides from 2014, which was originally intended as a soundtrack to a yoga class), or on a mathematical approach as on 2015’s Euclid. Ears however seems to try to open itself up to more primal impulses.
The album places itself at a very flattering crossroads, where Steve Reich inspired patterns and loops mingle with Laurie Anderson vocal strategies of chanting/instrument imitation/electronic processing and is topped with some extremely breezy harmonies reminiscent of the chirping side of Mulatu Astatke. If this sounds like a winning combination for your next naked meadow dance, that’s because it is, in the best of ways. While it is a clearly well thought out process, Ears oozes purity and good vibes. The first two songs, First Flight and Wetlands have very precise titles for what they actually sound like. First Flight rolls its rapid fire arpeggios to a weightless vocal chanting climax, where it remains until suddenly disappearing into the ether. Wetlands on the other hand is a more static affair, in which plips and plops of amphibious creatures crawling into your line of sight are followed by those same creatures’ slow dance celebrating their water goddess (probably). Envelop truly wraps around you like a very alluring shawl, Stratus discreetly brings Eno into the picture and the final track, Existence in the Unfurling, the longest track is a very successful exercise in invoking the god of rhythm and repetition himself, Steve Reich, and then fades out in synthesis bliss. The album is an extremely uplifting experience, challenging your post-hibernal cinicism to a wrestling match it simply cannot win.
Sometimes it’s far too easy to forget the playful aspect of music, especially in an environment where mathematics, physics, and plain old (but obligatorily ultra-precise) counting play such an important role. Luckily, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is willing and extremely able to put back the fun into your spring ritual soundtrack. Go out into the woods, bath naked in the sun-god, sacrifice your favorite gecko, only for it to be reborn from the ashes of the ginkgo you just burned under your dancing feet.