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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NPR’s Pitch-perfect “All Songs Considered” Podcast, Your Weekly Music Fix.

At the end of last year, the terribly clever bean counters at The New York Times decided that what the organization needed was to make it more like a traditional newspaper, and less like something more attuned to the 21st century. So they axed nearly all of their superb podcasts, leaving just a skeletal three. And one of those included in the cull was, alas, the excellent Popcast.

So in January of this year I went in search of a replacement podcast for all things musical, and was quickly pointed in the general direction of NPR’s “All Songs Considered“. And despite only tuning in to it for the last few weeks, I can confidently declare it mandatory listening.

National Public Radio is an enlightened attempt in the US to replicate the (at least original) ethos behind the BBC. It’s a non-profit organization and the programmes that are produced there are made by people because they’re the kinds of programmes that they would like to hear aired, and they rightly assume that there must be others who are similarly curious. They are in other words programmes that are made regardless of ratings.

All Songs Considered is the musical version of one of their most successful shows, All Things Considered, and it first aired on the web a little over ten years ago. It’s chaired by Bob Boilen, who created it, and Robin Hilton, and between them they manage to strike exactly the right balance of careful casualness and quiet planning. You get the impression that you’re eaves-dropping on a private conversation, but one that you’re meant to be over-hearing. And the areas that they cover every week with each of their guest reviewers really are all-encompassing.

A recent edition for instance looked at the collaboration between Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and the veteran avant-garde Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Hearing how in awe the former is of the latter, and how unashamedly he echoes him on his soundtrack to There Will Be Blood was a revelation.

In another which focused on electronica, they gave us a taste of the latest project from Joe Goddard, one half of Hot Chip whose The 2 Bears, and yes, they really do dress up and DJ in bear suits, is about to release its debut album.

And it was here too, in an earlier edition again, that I was introduced to the ethereal delights of the bewitching Julianna Barwick, whose album I reviewed here earlier.

Next week they’re previewing this year’s South By Southwest, and the following week they’ll be covering the event proper. SXSW is to music what Sundance is to film. It has in other words become so much a part of the mainstream that referring to it now as being in any way indie is frankly laughable. Nevertheless, it still manages to somehow unearth an undiscovered gem every year.

In 2010 it was Sleigh Bells (whose follow up album Reign Of Terror has just been released). And on this, its 20th anniversary, it’s unlikely to prove any less illuminating. Either way, the best place to keep tabs on it is All Songs Considered’s pitch-perfect podcast, which you can find here.

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Julianna Barwick’s “The Magic Place”, David Lynch’s Soon To Be, Surely, Muse.

It’s hard to avoid using the E word when talking about Julianna Barwick. Her combination of ethereal, hypnotic vocals with carefully constructed layers of meticulously crafted sound conjures up inevitable if unfortunate visions of Enya.

A more useful comparison might be with Liz Fraser, and the sort of music that she and her fellow 4AD sirens were producing with the likes of the Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance. But there’s none of that angst with Barwick.

The waves of balm that she wraps you up in evoke instead the blissed-up chill-out calm of last year’s Within And Without from Washed Out, reviewed here earlier, with the occasional echo of the quieter bits form Panda Bear’s Tomboy.

The Magic Place is all of the above, and yet somehow so much more. For despite all that bliss, and calm, and chilled out, yawn, serenity, it’s an album that manages to avoid ever sounding in any way monotonous.

Which is remarkable. There are no lyrics to speak of, in the conventional sense. It’s essentially a Minimalist album, where each piece takes a motif which is then worked on, methodically, almost mathematically, up to varying degrees of complication. And yet, there’s enough variation throughout and across each of the nine tracks to draw you in and hold you there. And rather than ever becoming boring, the more you listen to it the more beguiling become its charms.

Officially, it’s her second album, but to all extents and purposes The Magic Place is her first album proper and has been out for a year now. It got an impressed 8.5 from the boys from Pravda http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15147-the-magic-place/?utm_campaign=search&utm_medium=site&utm_source=search-ac. If you missed it first time around, treat yourself.

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