Kein: In Bloom

Russ Young: Common Pond

Midway through “Brixton Rd.,” the middle track on Kein's In Bloom, a drum'n'bass pattern briefly appears—one surprise of many on this hand-numbered, limited-edition CD release (200 copies available) by the Italy-based Kein, an unidentified producer who's been, at different times since 1994, a bass player in various bands, a DJ, and most recently an Events Planner for live bands and DJs. His work—at least insofar as In Bloom might be seen as representative of it—distances itself from that of his contemporaries by accentuating melody to a pronounced degree, and consequently In Bloom suggests that it makes more sense to think of Kein as an IDM-related project similar to Plaid than as something more soundscaping-based. The title track in particular suggests as much, given how reminiscent its sound is of Plaid in its late-‘90s Not For Threes and Rest Proof Clockwork period.

Though he brings a song-like structural emphasis to the material, Kein isn't averse to applying an experimental sensibility to his work. As an example, one of the things he likes to do is record sounds such as rain, wood, and metal objects using a condenser microphone and threading the manipulated results into his compositions. And like many a contemporary electronic producer, Kein indulges in cut-and-paste using plug-ins and exploits the sound potential offered by the digital error or glitch. That's evident from the very outset of the release in the textural crackle that acts as an undercurrent for strings and keyboard elements within “Untitled.” Even so, the focus shifts to melody and song-styled composition in the pieces that follow: Kein's melodic bent comes into play during the subsequent piece “Look After Me” in the IDM-styled electric piano figures that shimmer across the track's broken beat pattern and is later as strongly emphasized during the melancholic reverie “Ostalgie.” That rhythm is as central to Kein's sound as melody is evidenced by the funk groove powering “Sugar” and loping broken beat pattern within “Isländische.”

In classic IDM fashion, the typical Kein track could be described as a multi-layered construction heavy on synthetic keyboard elements and broken beat rhythms. If there's anything dissatisfying about the release, it simply has to do with length. At twenty-five minutes, In Bloom is obviously more like an EP than full-length in the amount of content provided. At the same time, the release leaves the listener wanting more, which might have factored into the rationale in support of the recording's concision.

In contrast to Kein's In Bloom, Audiobulb's other recent release, Russ Young's digital-only Common Pond, parks itself firmly within the field recordings-based soundsculpting genre. It, too, is a concise release at thirty-six minutes, though its mini-album length makes it a more legitimate candidate for full-length status than Kein's. By his own admission, Young is an enthusiastic field recorder who collects documents wherever he travels, and consequently Common Pond becomes somewhat of a personal sound diary that the listener is invited to share. It also functions as a geographical portrait of Young's immediate environment, given that its eight tracks draw upon locales in Lincoln (UK) or in the surrounding area.

If there's a nostalgic quality to “Cricket Pitch,” it might have something to do with the fact that it refers to a place on the West Common close where he grew up. And at the risk of reading too much into the track's wondrous mood, perhaps its dreamlike character also has something to with the fact that one can view the metallic dome of the local astrological society's observatory roof from the site (a similar mood is evoked in the closing piece “Observatory Roof”). Young's material is so evocative, it's hard not to listen to “Cricket Pitch” and visualize a solitary figure silhouetted against the night sky gazing at the stars. His comments also often bring clarity to a given piece's design. That “Lamy's Sound and Light” refers to a local ‘disco equipment' shop where neon lights flash all night, for example, helps explain the connection between the track's title and its content. In other cases, such as “Belmont Transmitter” and “Common Pond,” titles alone suffice to suggest what is being alluded to in the sound material.

The typical Young setting is a detail-packed affair that blends ambient-drone elements and field recordings in equal manner. A glitchy quality at times surfaces (see “Common Pond”), but more often than not Young hews to a more naturalized presentation that de-emphasizes the computer's presence in the final presentation. It's not deadly serious stuff, however: “Phil's House” exemplifies the project's more playful side in the way Young manipulated recordings of eight upright pianos so that they suggest a forceful downpour. In general, his personal approach pays off in drawing the listener's attention to details within everyday experience we tend to gloss over. In listening to “John's Bike,” for instance, the sound of a neighbour driving off to work on his motorbike becomes something worth attending to. Such listening in turn leads us to humbly reflect upon just how much of our lives are constituted by such mundane events.

August-September 2014