Kate Simko: Lights Out
Hello? Repeat

Kate Simko has built up an impressive discography since she started releasing music five years ago, which makes it a little bit of a surprise to discover that Lights Out is, formally speaking, her debut solo album (the 2009 Ghostly release, Music From The Atom Smashers, presumably doesn't not qualify as such, given its status as a science documentary soundtrack). What that means for the listener, however, is that the debut in this case presents an artist who's pretty close to being fully formed as opposed to still in search of identity. Oh sure, there are disparate influences—the dance music styles associated with Chile, Detroit, and Chicago figure prominently, for example—that emerge over the course of the album, but they're all subsumed within a refined and well-developed artistic sensibility that is uniquely Simko's.

In addition to the powerful bass presence that enlivens the material, there are also some well-timed vocal performances and the beats are punchy too. Absorbed track by track, the album provides multiple moments of pleasure. “Beneath” draws the listener into the album with an understated seductiveness, its nimble bumping groove and glimmering melody deepened with percussive touches and buckshot claps. Her arranging skills come to the fore during “Flight Into BA” when the purr of a repeating saxophone murmur nicely complements a soulful vocal performance by Kevin Knapp. Other accents appear, such as the distant trace of a siren, but standing out prominently is the lithe bass line that lends the track such animation. Her background as part of the South American minimal dance music scene as a member of Detalles (with Andres Bucci) emerges during “Mira Vos,” whose percolating swing swells into a barely controlled broil, and “Bikini Atoll,” which likewise rocks its techno-funk vibe hard as it strafes its shimmying gallop with synthesizer spritzes. Simko's affinity for the earthy vibe associated with Chicago house and Detroit techno emerges in “Mind On You,” which backs a mantra-like vocal by Brenda De-Noto Gardner with a thudding bass pulse and keyboard sparkle. “Cairo” goes down easily too, especially when a swinging micro-house edge smoothens the ride, while dreamy vocal touches by Dilo in “Had It All” help take the album out on an energized note, even if the track's more of an atmospheric jam.

Enhancing the album's material is a palpable analog dimension, as Simko brings synth gear (Juno 106 and Polyevolver) and drum machines (Roland 505 and 707) into the sonic fold. Such elements add warmth and presence to the material's polished character, and help bolster its emotive qualities too. That she regarded Lights Out as an art project of sorts shouldn't be taken to mean that the music's overly stiff or polite—if anything, it sounds like the funkiest music Simko's ever released.

May 2011