Friday, October 6, 2017

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid Review

When dissecting it, life is quite a fascinating topic. On the inside, billions of molecules forming tangible objects we can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. On the outside, human bodies no bigger than those molecules whilst comparing us to the universe. A universe filled with trillions of stars that, to us, are no bigger than a molecule, despite many eclipsing the size of Earth itself. Space is incomprehensible to perceive when you're only aware of the reach around you. Artists from all walks of life, not just music, have used the universe to interpret our inherent humanistic squabbles. Some take the optimistic approach, slanting the abstruse concepts of the unknown by placing value on what's important to us. Others, as recently as clipping.'s Splendor & Misery, invalidate the history of humanity in order to seek something grander. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Kid falls somewhere in between. Centered on the simple idea of a child discovering the world they're pinned to, but at the same time wholly consumed at the thought of what's beyond. On 2016's EARS, Smith cemented herself as a formidable new voice in the Electronic scene, setting scenes and moods in ways only seasoned veterans could. The Kid, through a more expansive outlet, does much of the same.

As we learned during the 2000's when Animal Collective went from bedroom bedlam to bizarre bog to boisterous blowout, psychedelic music can achieve numerous things at once. Perhaps most intriguing, hallucinogenic tunes meant to entice drug usage and the ensuing adoration of the microscopic can just as easily revere the limitless philosophizing of the macroscopic. When you take listeners to a fantasy realm of your own creation all bets are off. Smith's ethereal conjuration can just as easily describe a termagant forest filled with fauna and flora as it can a kaleidoscopic sky filled with aurora borealis shows, colorful galaxies, and shooting stars. In some cases the outcome is obvious, like the electro-acoustic field recordings of wildlife on 'Who I Am And Why I Am Where I Am.' In others, not so much. Opener 'I Am A Thought,' which continues the ideas present on the eleven-minute EARS closer 'Existence In The Unfurling,' and interlude 'I Am Consumed' tiptoe the line between micro and macro, just as easily capable of describing the embryonic functions of life as it is the advanced mysteries above. Throughout The Kid, listeners are subjected to a light show that clouds true intent.

Typically, that's where a lyricists' words swoop in to help. However, a heavy-handed dose of abstract thought and constant, deep-seated vocal manipulation make it increasingly difficult to understand Smith throughout The Kid. Her presence as a singer acts as a double-edged sword, downplaying the enjoyment by making it a chore to comprehend, while increasing the wondrous indulgence by introducing catchy melodies to the fold. We see this on numerous tracks, but most prominently on 'I Am Learning' and 'Until I Remember.' Both of these tracks, perhaps coincidentally, title themselves in a way that's directly related to a mind's fickle nature. The former, like a child who's bouncing off the walls from a sugar overdose, tantalizes with some gooey production that Smith crescendos all over. The latter takes a more expositional approach, proceeding with a stampede of percussion that Smith traps herself in. While both of these tracks seduce with fetching jaunts, the lyrics are virtually incomprehensible, a result of the suffocating production swelling around and through Smith, like the stars strangling her face on the cover. Normally, for an Electronic album, failing to understand the lyrical contemplation wouldn't be a big deal. For The Kid though, a loosely-formatted narrative concept can only go so far when the words are entangled in cacophony.

After lead singles 'An Intention' and 'To Follow And Lead' dropped, fear began to swell over Smith's overuse of vocal modulation leading to an aquatic gambol. This proved to be accurate, which, consequently, unveiled Smith's limited range. Her bubbly dynamics veer from excitable sprite to anxious scrim, which sounds varied enough, but the foundation underlying all of it deviates seldomly. Her style reminds me of other Electronic artists like Tycho, The Field, or Emancipator, ones who have whittled their distinctive idiosyncrasies down to a science, merely inserting the puzzle pieces where necessary to make a song work. That's being a fair bit cruel to Smith, as diversity within grasp is present. It's just, very clearly, coming from the same unflappable idea. This, in fact, can be heard progressively as The Kid's first half springs with vitality as the second drifts with solemn contemplation. Not surprisingly, given its lingering qualities, the final few tracks following 'Until I Remember' drag The Kid to a rather anticlimactic ending. This includes 'I Am Curious, I Care' and 'I Will Make Room For You,' two tracks that go in one ear and out the other. This does not include 'To Feel Your Best,' what's easily the best representation of Smith's soft, whimsical romanticism.

Much like EARS, The Kid's best moments are those which make an over-joyous impact. I recall the eccentric and intoxicating simplicities of 'Arthropoda,' which is still Smith's best work. However, 'To Follow And Lead' comes close, a thought that didn't initially manifest until understanding The Kid's prolonged bouts of rumination. The three-track run 'To Follow And Lead' is sandwiched between also The Kid's best, precisely for the reason that a childlike glee rises to the surface throughout. 'To Follow And Lead,' beyond the Fisher-Price instrumentation that brings about comparisons to Dan Deacon, thrives thanks to numerous interchangeable choruses that bounce over one another like a game of leap frog. Smith's use of overly-childish language here ("ah ah ah - ah ah - ah - ah ah ah ah"), and elsewhere like 'An Intention' and 'The Kid,' actually benefit the concept overall, acting as a bridge between the young, illformed mind, and the intellectual discourse that'll happen when full maturity is reached. On The Kid, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith dissects the human-centric concept of maturity through thought. An ambitious step but one that's mildly hindered by finite wrinkles.

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