Review Summary: A glistening waterfront with an ocean of potential under it.
iamamiwhoami has done very well at marketing herself on a relatively small budget, using YouTube and blogs to carefully build up anticipation and exposure for this album by releasing a new video every fortnight, effectively releasing the entire album brick by brick while also providing a short film (included here on a DVD bonus disc) for fans to piece together as well, giving them another reason to keep coming back. Unfortunately, this talking point is interesting enough to be in danger of overshadowing the music itself.
With that in mind, I think it's important to say - for the benefit of anybody else that feels a little intimidated by that release schedule as much as anything - that I came into kin
completely blind, having not heard any of it before, nor seen any of the videos, or even read any reviews. It's important because iamamiwhoami has, whether consciously and deliberately or otherwise, tried to subvert the entire experience of listening to an album by encouraging her fans to take in each song for two weeks before moving on to the next. If that doesn't seem odd, imagine watching a 70 minute film over the course of four weeks. Sure, the comparison is a little flawed because, by and large, albums aren't a narrative in the traditional sense, but they still have a mood, a contour, and a flow, and you simply can't get a feel for that when you're taking breathers so often. For those who've followed her YouTube exploits for their duration, their experience has had as much in common with the average album experience as watching the original TV run of The Sopranos
has in common with watching Goodfellas
In itself, this is fine. The financial state of the music industry is such that anything that challenges the established methods of distribution and marketing effectively is to be congratulated - but it's just a challenge, not a revolution, and kin
is still going to be judged on all the old points.
Sadly, and predictably, it's on those points where kin
lets itself down a little. Taken in one sitting, it's a little on the disjointed side, and the sequencing doesn't make the most of its strengths, making some of the repetition seem like a lack of ideas rather than thematic consistency - and "sever", as an opening track, seems determined to give you the impression that iamamiwhoami sounds exactly like Cerys Matthews of Catatonia. She doesn't - thank God - but first impressions are hard to shift, so a it takes a few tracks for that enormously unflattering comparison to go away.
Otherwise, though, kin
is a great success. Surprisingly for an album that was released in the way this was, it's much more about its sound than its songs, and as such feels hyper-modern; it slots in right alongside Visions
by Grimes and feels like part of a general trend toward shimmering, dreamy synth textures that's spread far enough to make cloud rap a legitimate genre. Bjork has been mentioned by many people as a similar artist, as have Portishead, and there is truth there (as long as we're clear about it being Third
-era Portishead and Vespertine
-era Bjork), but the artist it reminded me most often is Royksopp - kin
takes the most un-dance moments of Melody A.M.
and stretches them into songs, while piling on more layers to make the whole thing more immersive. Those extra layers draw from all sorts of sources - within the first two tracks alone you can hear elements swiped from Kraftwerk's Die Mensch-Maschine
and Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII
, and The Knife are a crucial influence throughout.
It's a shame that the sequencing and the overall flow isn't quite right, because in all other regards, this is a beautiful album to stick on and just drift away to - this is music of impressive texture and depth. The delirious reaction to this record in some quarters suggests that iamamiwhoami has already made the leap from 'artist to watch' to a forerunner, but kin
also speaks of mounds of untapped potential to me; I'm genuinely excited to see what she'll come up with next. This is a highlight of 2012, but if she stays on this path, the next one could well be a highlight of the decade.
And all this from an album produced and co-written by a man that has toured as the piano player in Travis. Travis
. What a weird world we live in.