Thursday, August 2, 2012

Iamamiwhoami's debut Kin is tantalizing without being wholly fulfilling

You might describe the work of experimental electronic musician iamamiwhoami as mysterious, but that might not do it justice. She went to extreme measures to conceal her identity in early music videos, including duct taping her entire body and coating her face in a layer of mud. The latter approach had the effect of making her look about as endearing as an aborted fetus.

Her method of distribution was only slightly less odd. Rather than release an album, she instead opted to virally release music videos on her Youtube channel. Each song title was only one letter long, eventually spelling out the word bounty. And there was virtually no advance notice or advertising preceding any of her releases. Are there any words in the English language capable of describing how bizarre this is? Oh, I give up.

When it was finally announced that Swedish pop singer Jonna Lee was the woman behind the mud, it appeared the iamamiwhoami project had run its course. But it was actually just beginning.

You see, in spite of all the weird imagery, the music itself was always first rate. Here was a rouge musician, doing things on her own terms and never fucking around. Iamamiwhoami felt like a project hell bent on pushing music across new boundaries.

June 2012 saw the release of Iamamiwhoami's first full length, Kin. While it manages to capture most of her trademark weirdness, it also misses a few opportunities.

She starts out of the gate with a bang. Opener "Sever" puts the focus on Lee's icy and eerie vocals, while "Drops," on the other hand, heats things up with an unsettling jungle sounding intro. At about three minutes in it explodes into one of the most unforgettable synth riffs in recent memory, while being backed by a low pitch buzzing bassline.

Another personal favorite is "In Due Order," which presents a very sinister, bass heavy sound. With its brooding, industrial nature, it wouldn't feel out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album.

"Good Worker," which focuses on the family unit and feminist issues, presents a rare moment of lyrical clarity for Lee, while the almost R&B sounding"Play" sounds like a love song from Silent Hill.

However, Kin begins to reveal small chinks in the armor. The song structures are simpler, and more obviously pop based, which means the songs start wearing thin a bit quicker than some of her past material. This is a shame, especially considering tracks like "u1," u2" or "t" seemed to indicate a desire to push forth in new directions.

Later on there are a run of more downbeat tracks that sound rather pedestrian compared to what we usually hear from this project. Tracks like "Rascal" and "Idle Talk" are heavily minimalist, stripping away that godly production work for something far less fascinating. "Idle Talk" operates around a simplistic and repetitive beat that never goes anywhere, while Lee delivers what sounds like uninspired pillow talk.

"Rascal" likewise is just generally minimal, and Lee's voice doesn't do enough to capture her audience's imagination. I was tempted to lump "Kill" into the same category, but I give it credit for its oddly structured chorus hook, its thumping percussion, and its heavily digitized verses.

Kin ends with a bang, however. "Goods" is unquestionably the album's best dance song, with wigged out futuristic electronics and strong sugary pop hooks. Kin may be drawing to a close, but Lee isn't ready to stop dancing anytime soon.

As always, Claes Björklund's production work is fantastic, We also get to hear the dynamic range of Lee's voice, from her hushed low pitch whisper to her alien like upper register. ";john" remains her best song, but several cuts here are on par or above "Clump" and the bounty singles.

Given the pedigree of the artist, however, Kin could have been better. Perhaps it's not surprising that Lee is trying to reign herself in, but it has largely cost her the experimental edge she had with her earlier singles.The biggest shame is that for the first time, several of these cuts cause Lee to sound downright ordinary. It's not an ideal approach.

Score: 90/100

No comments: