Music Reviews

White Hinterland Kairos

(Dead Oceans) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

There comes a time when an artist's stance deviates from the norm they’ve formerly established to avoid replication. Casey Dienel, a young and prodigious songwriter with a deft grasp of distinct musical sensibilities, almost makes it look easy. In such a short time, Dienel has made a name for herself as a solo artist, studying jazz with premeditated, crafted musicians who live and breathe their profession. In the case of Dienel, her constant variations to style seem almost impulsive, as if she needs to bend the curve to avoid tedium. If she got something right, it was the one thing every jazz musician shares: the desire to achieve perfection through formalized improvisation.

Dienel’s debut as White Hinterland, Phylactery Factory, was a mostly psychedelic excursion into abstract jazz, boasting constancy in the way it seamlessly blended loungy tunes with overwhelming exhilaration. Though incredibly skilled, it also became a challenging listen: beneath much ingenuity, it was unevenly structured, filled with far too many ideas that somewhat lost context as it deepened in concept. Even if every genre she tackled was always stirring, whether it was chilled bossa nova, contemplative folk numbers, and even tackling exotic instrumentation, it dragged for the most part, bringing down the luscious piano-driven compositions that pertained to such an experimental effort. Even if the New Orleans jazz template was masterminded with force, the intention played out as wholly perfunctory.

Kairos, a Greek word for a fleeting moment, is sort of the philosophic mantra that Dienel wants to achieve this time around. For one thing, it almost dramatically alters everything that was thought about Dienel, even if the unlikely route fits her peculiar alter ego. As soon as Icarus comes into play, a synthetic, looped beat with oriental harmonies and unearthly ambience, we know that this must be left field material. Moon Jam takes a cue from synthesized minimalism, a pensive fusion of inventive samples that mostly recall Broadcast’s straightforward but constantly changing patterns, along with a palpable bassline. Much credit is given to mixer Shawn Creeden, a multi tasker who understands the importance of precise, synthesized work. He more than avoids ambiguity, an offense many electronic hack musicians carry out when not perceiving how detrimental an impersonal, flat beat sounds.

Fittingly so, Kairos possesses an album cover that adequately fits the mood of its subject matter. That ghostlike imagery amid a scenic lake solemnly depicts the emotional undertones that are mostly intrinsic to one’s nature – these bare knuckle pieces bear in mind chilled sensations of distance within meditated tranquility. Besides bearing essence to such minimalist synth work, White Hinterland has accomplished the task of editing things to a minimum. On the other hand, there’s a whole lot going on - Begin Again is mainly constructed with a fuzzed out beat and programmed percussion, accompanied by a soulful harmony that brings to mind 50’s girl groups. A recognized stretch is Dienel's newfound tonality – instead of flirting with quirky and unusually chirpy vocals (think Joanna Newsom), she’s fully extended her range, contrasting indie frontwomen's knack for schmaltzy female vocals.

Throughout Kairos’ middle half, White Hinterland logically extends their repertoire, even if this time around, these progressions make sense. In Bow & Arrow, an African percussion builds out to grooved out reggae, accompanied by variations of deepened tribal moans. Amsterdam and Thunderbird complement each other, both taking a hit at dubstep and actually pulling it off. Amsterdam is particularly successful, reflecting upon a trivial account that describes a dour and pastel setting, painting it with color as the crystallized, industrial samples give way.

Kairos is an intimate account on how stripping things down to a minimum whilst keeping a clear focus on limitations can actually lay emphasis on more unique songwriting. Most mesmerizing is album closer Magnolias, a drugged out trip that diminishes into an imaginary wonderland – the twanged sound of a subdued guitar progression gives way to Daniel’s opaque cry, fading into the distance. It concludes with certain anonymity, leaving one a bit bedazzled and befuddled at once. Kairos certainly drifts as an aloof spirit: devoid of any clear meaning, but readily inviting one to submerge into its twisted microcosm.