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.