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Kindness - Otherness

  • Published in Albums

About two years ago Kindness burst upon the scene with his album World, You Need a Change of Mind, which was very well received at the time. One of those enticing qualities that made people like it so much was the combination of a certain alienation, apatheticness, with the qualities of pop and R&B. Certainly, only looking at the collaborators for this album, one would expect him upping the ante playing the same game. You’ve got Dev Hynes from Blood Orange fame in there for example, someone with whom Kindness has worked before. But also R&B chanteuse Kelela and pop singer Robyn make an appearence, and naturally one hopes that bringing in the qualities of all these people makes the new album even better than the one before.

For about half an album you could certainly make the case that he’s at least in there rivalling his debut. ‘World Restart’, the album’s opener which also features Kelela, is exactly the kind of thing people were probably expecting. It’s got certain pop qualities, but it also has some Jazz and R&B infuences in there, culminating into a lovely song that is both intriguing musically but which still has that easy-on-the-ear quality, that one quality that pop songs excel in. In the second song, ‘This Is Not About Us’, you’ve got those kind of aloof vocals working on top of some lovely percussion and bass, with a lovely soft chorus when he starts singing “Long way doooown” and ending with the sad conclusion that “you should find someone new”. 

‘I’ll Be Back’ is perhaps the best example of that framework that works so well for Kindness. First of all you have these rather distanced, dreamy vocals and some genre elements, in this case that nice little piano line that gives the track its flavour. These things are put on top of an easy-on-the-ear rhythm part, which provides the backbone to the track and which makes it move forward. In this case with some lovely finger snapping to boot and, even, a little beat, which will give you a little opportunity to do a bit of shuffling on the dance floor. The lyrics are as simple as effective, with the narrator saying that You forgot my name, and then returning the favour by saying “and I forgot you”. The plot twist ensues when the soulful vocals near the end come in and sing that he’ll “be back again”. Not quite forgiven and forgotten after all.

Where in those tracks you have a clear backbone that keeps those songs together, even making it veer into a certain form of popiness, you don’t quite get that on the second half of the album. The first hint to that is when vocals come in that start rapping, which feels like a break from the main vocal delivery (even when they turn more towards R&B in some instances). It feels way more direct than the primary mood of many other tracks. After that, the tracks lose the structure that earlier tracks do have. At some points, it seems like the album starts to meander into one of those jazz solos that people who don’t like the genre always kind of make fun of. Those kind of moments where people feel the tracks just have lost the plot and that their minds, like the track, start to drift completely off the map.

The second half of the album certainly is harder to like than its first half, and compared to the first album there’s no contest in terms of accessibility. Some people will certainly find beauty in that second part though and people who liked the first album will have a couple of songs in the starting part of the batting order that they will welcome with open arms. Many people, however, might not want to be listening to this cover to cover, as some songs might give rise to people throwing their arms to the heavens and exclaiming 'What is the point of all of this!'. Although I’m only half serious with that remark (as if music/art/anything-really always need to have a point), that you can actually half-seriously say that does tell you something about the album. And, definitely, not everything on here will be everyone’s cup of tea.

Otherness is available from amazon & iTunes.


The Weekly Froth - September #2

  • Published in Columns

The Weekly Froth! A weekly take on six tracks, most of which have recently popped up somewhere in the blogosphere. Bit of a mixed bag with a slight leaning towards house, disco, and remixes, but generally just anything that for some reason tickled the writer’s fancy.

Track of the week: ‘Dangerous Days’ by Zola Jesus (The Juan MacLean remix)

Both of these juggernauts are about to release a new album, so what better reason to team up then, eh? The Juan MacLean puts in the sounds verging on techno at the start, though it is that dull thudding sound that makes sure it doesn't sound too devoid of feel. From about the 1:20 mark you get this lovely synth sound, and twenty seconds later you get the impeccable vocals of Zola Jesus. Surprisingly, they mesh pretty well, even if the vocals are a long cry from the more rhythmic Nancy Whang. Here the vocals don’t add something to the rhythm, but they add some warmth, which counter balances the fairly “cold” sounds, without being negative about that. The Juan MacLean always has a certain industrial quality to his sound that I do really love. There are moments in this remix where the voice takes center stage, with The Juan MacLean stripping away all that makes you dance, later obviously coming back to that. It’s got the danceability you’d expect, and the vocals give it a bit of warmth to make it well worth the listen.


‘This Is Not About Us’ by Kindness

Kindness is gearing up to release his new album, Otherness, and this will give you an idea of what might be on there. He starts almost singer-songwriter like with just a piano and his dreamy vocals, but soon the rest comes in to give it some rhythm so you can do a slow little shuffle to it. I really like how he uses his vocals. First of all there’s this huge difference between the vocals in the verses and the chorus, where either they use multiple layers of vocals or there are some backing singers on there. But I also really like the way he alternates between almost pathetically admitting that “you should find someone new” to sometimes being on the verge of shouting it all out. Add to that the slight funk in the percussion that juxtaposes the vocal sound, and what you’ve got is yet another terribly good track by this guy, making the album one to look out for.


‘On&On&On&On’ by Baio

This one starts out like it wants to make you dance, as it immediately jumps in with the beat from the get go. After about twenty seconds the wood percussion gets some extra atmosphere as well, courtesy of the synths. From that point on you get an extra layer after about every so many seconds, putting down the vibe on this one. From about 1:20 you get into an almost tropical kind of sound, making you wish that summer was not yet over. There’s always something going on that a dancer can hold on to, with the bass or the percussion being in there underneath the layer of tropical synths. That is, until the break of course, which starts about three minutes in and which Baio is in no hurry to disturb, lasting over a minute. Then the tropical sounds come back in first, after which the bass is put in again for those needing something a little more sturdy to dance to. If you like your tropicana drinks free and with a slice of bass, then this might be something you’re into.


‘Spellbound’ by Justin Faust

This one puts you in dancing mode from just about the get go, and it even adds another dancing layer at about 30 to push it all out even more. Leave it to Justin Faust to keep the momentum up and happening by adding just a little bit of punch at exactly the right moments. After the first minute you already hear a bit of the vocals, and you’ll keep on hearing them as Faust is working up to the break by upping the volume of the synths more and more throughout the second minute of this one. Those synths and vocals (still fairly muted, as they will remain throughout the song) are the essence of the break, which he lifts to get all y’all dancing again. Second part of the song as well, at exactly the right moments he gives the track a little punch or smoothly transitions into a different main sound to dance to, and that keeps this one from losing any steam in its almost five minute running time. Though, near the end, he slowly builds this one down to then abruptly stop.


‘Can’t Do Without You’ by Caribou (Tale of Us & Mano le Tough remix)

Caribou is going to release his new album Our Love next month, and this is a cut off of that. As with most Caribou songs, they give you plenty of stuff, and the album versions are usually just slightly too off beat to get into unabased party mode. So then, obviously, you bring in Tale of Us and Mano le Tough, who know how to get the crowds out and moving. For this one they first let it build up, and the kick drum and all the other dance elements start to come from about 1:30 onwards. There’s also a deeper, lazy synth on top to give it some atmosphere, with Caribou repeating the title line “Can’t Do Without You’ almost obsessively. That synth line provides a nice contrast with the deeper beat, which gets stripped during the break at about 3:15, where they go with atmospheric sounds, a low volumed synth, and the voice that sings that he-- you guessed it-- “can’t do without you”. They keep with the atmospherics for a pretty long time, and then they start building it up towards the beat from about 4:30 again. With three heavy hitters on board this was always going to be worth listening, though don’t expect a full on party track, with Tale of Us and Mano le Tough keeping the vibe and feel still front and center. Though no one will deny that on 3/4ths of the track you can get some dancing done.


‘Worlds Apart’ by Seven Lions feat. Kerli (Bit Funk remix)

It starts with a batch of percussion, but after a few seconds it dials down for the first time, going for just piano and the vocals of Kerli. Bit Funk then slides the percussion under it again, and after the verse it gets a beat as the track almost moves into the pop arena here. And that’s probably how to look at it, a track that would get the people bouncing at the summer festivals. Also on the back of those vocals I reckon, which Bit Funk uses to the max and which are always going full throttle. As mentioned, there are moments where they tone it down and where the vocals and piano take center stage. Soon they work in the drums again, really going pop structure style I reckon. And it makes for a fresh, happy, catchy little tune not so much for the club. But for that summer festival and with live musicians I can see this happening no doubt.


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