kj: spells
Lost Tribe Sound

Looking a bit like some modern-day descendant of Marc Bolan, the Bandcamp photo of KJ Rothweiler shows a curly haired and rather cherubic-faced individual gazing downwards, whether shyly, morosely, pensively, or otherwise is up to the viewer to decide. The image makes him appear no older than a teenager, a preternaturally young age for someone making music as mature and sophisticated as the kind on Spells (or spells, as the New York-based producer seems to have a preference for lower-case type settings as well as single-word titles).

It's his sophomore record, we're told, which means an earlier one presumably laid some degree of groundwork for the new set's nine productions. Each one of these poised ambient settings reflects an assured creative sensibility comfortably working within the conventions of the genre while confidently imprinting a personal stamp upon it. There's a distinctly ethereal quality to KJ's material that greatly enhances its appeal; the music floats serenely through softly reverberant spaces, its processed instrument sounds often smudged and its melodies hushed yet potent in spite of their muted presentation. It's a reticent and somewhat self-effacing music that nevertheless imparts a powerful effect, even when pitched at a subdued level.

While all nine pieces align themselves to the ambient tradition, there are clear differences between them. Whereas hazy washes might flutter placidly through one setting (such as “twins”), deep, processed voices, evocative of Gregorian chant, drift through another (“dawyn”). The ever-flickering title track, the longest setting at nine minutes, incessantly oscillates between two chords, generating an hypnotic effect as it does so, but to these ears the album's standout is “angels,” as gorgeous an ambient soundscape as they come. Fragile tones and washes whisper for five celestial minutes, the total effect so unearthly beautiful one wishes the track would carry on forever; angelic it most definitely is, the type of music one imagines capable of soothing even the most savage breast. If nothing else on this fine collection reaches the sublime heights of “angels,” the others certainly make strong enough cases for themselves too.

November 2017