“Salt”, the latest album from Katie Kim.

Katie Kin's Salt.

Katie Kin’s Salt.

In a parallel universe somewhere it was Cristina who was catapulted to stardom in the 1980s, while Madonna continues to wait tables somewhere in Williamsburg. There, Katie Kim’s records sell by the truckload.

Few things delineate us more distinctively than those secret discoveries we make in the worlds of music, books, film and television. But if any of those discoveries suddenly enjoy unexpected commercial success, we become deeply suspicious of them. Nothing contaminates art quite as irredeemably as popular acclaim.

All of which makes Katie Kim the most alluring artist working anywhere on these isles. Her latest album Salt came out last autumn, and so unheralded was its release that it completely passed me by.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

I had first come across her in 2011 when I saw her perform at the event curated by Donal Dineen at Dublin Contemporary. And when her second album, Cover and Flood, came out later that year, I had no hesitation in declaring it the album of the year, not withstanding what a stellar year 2011 was music-wise, which I reviewed earlier here,

So I had been eagerly awaiting her new album ever since, but somehow I still managed to miss it when it came out last autumn. I only heard of its arrival when it was nominated for the Choice Music Album of the year award. And although of course I’m delighted that the prize eventually went to Rusangano Family, few artists would have merited that boost to their career that winning an award like that would have given her than Kim.

 

Limerick's Rusangano Family.

Limerick’s Rusangano Family.

Salt is a more compact and cohesive affair than her previous couple of records, but the atmosphere it evokes and the feel of the album are familiar. We’re in 4AD territory here. And if it never gets quite as primal, guitar wise, as it does on a Cocteau Twins record, there’s no mistaking the terrain.

Think Stina Nordenstam recording an album for 4AD with some of the Dead Can Dance crew providing production duties. There’s an ethereal vulnerability to the vocals that’s bolstered by the heft and propulsion produced by the layers of sound that surround and give weight to the melodies.

Katie Kim's Cover and Flood.

Katie Kim’s Cover and Flood.

The result is a wonderfully dark album that you want to hear at four o’clock in the morning, but with the volume turned up loud.

Secrets are wonderful, but it’s pointless if you’ve literally no one to share them with. So for goodness sake go and buy this album. I need somebody else to talk to about it.

You can see the video for the track Ghosts here.

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Katie Kim’s “Cover & Flood”, a Serious Album from a Proper Musician.

Katie Kim "Cover & FLood"The wonderfully evocative “Heavy Lighting” (here), which now appears as track 7 on Katie Kim’s second album Cover & Flood, was released as a split single last year together with a Laura Sheeran track. They both performed on the same set at the excellent pop-up event curated by Donal Dineen at last year’s Dublin Contemporary, which I reviewed here earlier.

Sheeran and Kim are part of that new breed of musicians who begin by making use of this dizzying digital revolution that we are all in the midst of to produce impressively finished music from their bedrooms, using little more than a laptop and whatever instruments they happen to have to hand.

When they then begin to perform on stage, they are forced to use the few tools that they are able to carry themselves onto stage in increasingly complex ways, as they are faced with the reality of trying to hold onto an audience’s attention with extraordinary limited resources.

What tends to result is that they learn to produce increasingly involved layers of sound by distorting their voice and instruments, both electronically and digitally, to draw the audience in through what becomes a form of ritual, rhythmic hypnosis.

The problem is, that it’s far from simple to re-translate that sound back onto disc once they return to the studio. What was captivating on stage, can often sound a little dull and repetitive, a tad samey.

So it’s hugely gratifying to be able to report that as hypnotic as she is on stage, Katie Kim is every bit as alluring now that she’s returned to the recording studio in between all that inevitable touring. And impressively, despite being apparently produced in her bedroom, her second album is an even more expansive and confident affair than her first, Twelve, from 2008.

If the sound she produces live can best be referenced by Coco Rosie and Mazzy Star, on disc it’s a slightly more measured affair. A little less primal perhaps, but more panoramic in its stead, and a lot more ambitious in its scope.

There is some distortion and feedback, but on many of the tracks you get the quieter more nuanced sound of Stina Nordenstam, or Joanna Newsom, but without the latter’s angst or sense of struggle. Whilst a track like “Dummer” has clear echoes of Julianna Barwick, reviewed here earlier, with those waves of sound that wash over you and draw you so pleasurably into their depths.

This is a serious album from a proper musician producing a complex, eclectic and singular sound. If there’s a better, more accomplished album produced in Ireland this year, I shall be very surprised indeed.

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