Review Summary: Abstract and experimental, Kira Kira's newest album plays cruel games with the listener before finally giving in.
Kira Kira is an artist who’s always struck me as rather unimpressed with her Icelandic musical heritage. As a founding member of Kitchen Motors, an experimental, multi-media label and collective, and now with her own solo work, she opposes the commonly held stereotype that the main music export her country has to offer is soft, emotionally indulgent post-rock and classical (Sigur Ros, Olafur Arnalds, Rokkurro... take your pick). To this point, every group of notes she sets her name to contains at least a hint of subtle and deliberate awkwardness. Her previous outing, the off-putting-ly named Our Map To The Monster Olympics, saw her strung taut between this unpredictable edge and a more expected tinge of inoffensive Scandinavian folktronica. It was an album that invited you in with soft, beautiful hooks only to slam the door in your face at the last moment in a confusingly dichotic display. Almost thankfully, Feathermagnetik is another matter entirely. It’s the result of Kira Kira taking an axe to her sound: stripping off the fat of her indie-folk influences to leave an immensely experimental effort both quiet and hesitant yet equally as tentative. Instead of inviting you in it waits upstairs for you to find your own way, the door left only slightly askew. The sweetness of her voice replaced with but a whisper; beauty fluttering down on a lonely sigh of woodwind.
Perhaps it’s best on greeting Feathermagnetik to put aside all expectations, because any description can only come wrapped in uncertainty. It’s drone ambient... only it isn’t. It could be classical but it’s not and likewise any argument to call it folk will be met with abject failure. It’s like Kira’s gone out of her way to be obtuse, and the confusion the album creates lies in the abstract structure she’s chosen to apply. Under a wash of noise Kira teases out small flickers of each track, creating an uneven tumble of sound that embodies the qualities of both a singular drone and a myriad of singular parts. While at first cluttered and incomprehensible, off-kilter melodies and recurring themes soon reveal themselves to tie the tracks together, if only by a thread. Each passage of strings or brass is given space to perform in not too dissimilar a way to a jazz band passing the lead around each separate member. Except you can never be quite sure where one part ends and the next begins; or when.
These loosely connected segments seem to sit only slightly outside of cohesiveness, almost frustratingly so. With teasingly simple and nostalgic piano tinkers scattered in, it feels much like a cruel joke until these sounds slowly click into place towards the end of the album; resulting in the kind of blissful relief that drives a man to a paralyzed stupor. Theoretically it’s a simple technique, but the charm, wit and subtlety that Kira employs to create it dispel this thought. Despite this overarching statement and despite, even, the initial simplicity of Kira’s new sound, Feathermagnetik does more than just entertain along the way. The woodsy feel of brass and woodwind betray her folk-infused past, while the deep double-bass and shivering violins produce a tone that becomes increasingly dark and lonely on each listen. It’s an exercise in subtlety that often the most emotive displays in the album are from instruments you can barely hear. For instance, the highlight of “Leave the Light On” is not the slow, creepy whispers of the title, but instead the short draws of a violin hiding behind a wave of drones. In an expanse of dark, intimidating wells of noise this out-of-place, seconds-long fragility makes a statement as powerful as any full length track. That is the beauty of Feathermagnetik.
As the album spits us out on the rich, soaring planes of Svanasongur - the final crunch as strings, brass, woodwind, vocal samples, guitars and ambient effects finally align that one last time - the true excellence of Feathermagnetik reveals itself. It’s a swirling collapse of everything that’s gone into making the album, and in that moment it finally begins to make sense. Every successive listen, every press of the repeat button, will strip back yet another layer. It’s a grinding process made sweeter by the knowledge that exploring this album is to better understand something very precious. Like something beautiful that doesn’t want to be loved.