Review Summary: A silhouette of potential, struggling to find its form.Kiasmos
is, in a word, great. It stays engrossing from start to finish and is one of the most cohesive releases put together to date by these two artists, both combined and individually. The album could be described as breathtaking or entrancing, and yet I still find myself seeing this release as a disappointment, for reasons completely separate from the music itself. Expectations are the problem, and when the well-established artist Olafur Arnalds released an album as divisive as For Now I Am Winter
, these expectations ran wild. The inclusion of electronics and vocals in the mix totally altered his entire image, and while this rubbed some the wrong way, it opened up infinite possibilities for future expansion. Where would he go from here? Kiasmos (as a collaboration between Bloodgroup’s Janus Rasmussen and Olafur) has been around since 2009, but following on from such a wild experiment, the announcement of an official full length was exciting. Would the vocals be similar to Olafur’s 2013 release, or closer in style to Bloodgroup’s synth-pop? Would the electronics lean towards crystalline production, or the scratchy aesthetic found in songs like ‘This Place Was A Shelter’? Mixing a synth-pop artist with classical will make a pretty diverse album given their divergent influences, right?
Instead, they opt to carefully and intently hone in on a specific sound. Kiasmos
is like the slow-burning anxiety that builds on a dark walk home - it’s swimming in the lake and not quite being able to see your feet. There’s nothing special that happens, no monster that suddenly jumps out at you; all that tension and fear resides only in your head. The patience and restraint shown on this release can be almost unbearable at times, with warm piano lines being contrasted against glassy synth shards and mechanical beats to build suspense. When taken out of context, the peaks of highlights like ‘Bent’ and ‘Looped’ sound overwhelming, but when accompanied by everything surrounding those moments it simply sounds like a natural progression. The album is understated to an extreme degree, and refuses to rush forward or eschew the plan it has set out for itself, circling in on its target with startling precision. On the one hand, this enables the duo to completely flesh out every track on the album. On the other, the tension on which Kiasmos
thrives completely dies out on repeated listens.
This release is at its best when the artists resort to more comfortable styles, rather than forcibly meshing their influences together. ‘Held’ is perfectly representative of this, where the emotive piano melody and haunting strings sound like something right out of ‘…And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness’, and the comfort and ease with which Arnalds handles these facets is obvious. Another highlight track ‘Bent’ shows the other half of the duo taking the spotlight and working with a far grimier electronic palette, applying it to a shell more akin to deep house than the hybrid style utilized throughout the album. The moment this track peaks in its outro is the single most memorable moment to be found in Kiasmos
, and begs a question - Why didn’t they pursue more of this experimentation? However, there are places where this “my part, your part” approach falls in a heap, painfully evident at times like the clunky transition between ‘Looped’ and ‘Swayed’.
There’s something dreamy about this dichotomous mix of genres that’s hard to pinpoint, but gives the release an absurdly intense appeal in early listens. The duo certainly does stumble in places, and the limited sonic diversity can hurt its long-term appeal, but Kiasmos still manages to enchant. There is a sense of restlessness lurking here, shining through in the light shifting of beats from loop to loop; a willingness to change shackled by an imagined cage of necessary repetition. Kiasmos
is a silhouette of what it could be, refusing to accept its formlessness and subscribing to the age-old adage to “fake it till you make it”. They haven’t made it yet, but this is a perfect taster in the interim.