Mount Kimbie - Cold Spring Fault Less Youth | Album Review | By Volume

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Mount Kimbie

Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

Their uncanny mix of the tangible and the ethereal remains ever-present – our reward (and theirs) for restless exploration.

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Author: on May 28, 2013
7.5
Warp
May 27, 2013

Attributing the birth of post-dubstep to James Blake is an understandable practice, but ultimately a misguided one. The bulk of that credit actually resides with a pair of his London colleagues, Kai Campos and Dominic Maker (a.k.a. Mount Kimbie), whose 2009 Maybes EP and 2010 full-length debut Crooks & Lovers signaled electronic music’s transition from calamitous bass drops into hazier, more atmospheric textures. Check out the percussive palm-muted acoustics and fractal R&B vocals of “Adriatic” or the hand-claps, found sound beats, and ghostly organ accents on “Ruby” – either could go toe to toe with Blake’s best experimental stuff. But where Blake is carved from the singer/songwriter mold, (a bet he’s doubled down on with this year’s soulful, minimalistic Overgrown) Mount Kimbie have always remained somewhat faceless, their record covers adorned with soothing geometric shapes, sun-kissed street corners, and girls with big asses. The music on follow-up Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, oddly enough, sounds like a union of all three.

While it unquestionably swings, Mount Kimbie’s music has always been more about the firing of synapses than the swaying of hips. Cold Spring feels both constrained and expansive – a thinkpiece recorded in tight, windowless bedroom studios that manages to achieve a majestic, yet intimate sensation of flight by following its creators’ explorations down corridors of endless, inner worlds. Over mechanistic beats, mournful organ tones, and the squonky horns of “Home Recording,” a sense of freedom through entrapment permeates Campos’ utterance: “You can touch four walls in here while standing still.” Even their most pixelated sonic renderings are softened by elements found only in the real world – the duo are prone to having field recordings of creaking cathedral pews, gliding skateboards, and clucking tongues mixed into the digital bedrock of their tracks. Mount Kimbie is the rare artist (Caribou, Fennesz, and Bibio being a few others) that allows you to associate electronic music with more than just ones and zeroes.

Remarkably, there were moments when the duo doubted if they even had a second album in them. After working for months on a sequel for Crooks & Lovers, Campos and Maker were forced to scrap nearly all of their work for fear of it sounding well-trodden and uninspired. While experimenting, Campos fed a sequence of arpeggiated synth notes through an old four-track tape recorder, manually layering them until he stumbled upon a haunting, slightly out-of-phase melody, which he then cobbled together with a seemingly incongruent second section composed of jazzy hi-hats and slinky bass guitar. Unexpectedly, it became one fluid, gorgeously melodic figure entitled “Break Well” that served as a critical turning point during recordings. By manipulating digital sounds through analog means, Mount Kimbie stumbled upon a process of making music that would both connect with audiences and, more importantly, challenge them as producers and songwriters. This reverse sampling technique, in addition to the inclusion of live drums, guitar, and bass, was used throughout Cold Spring, imbuing the album with a gritty, organic feel.

Not surprisingly, Cold Spring feels more corporeal than its predecessor. The instruments serve as melodic leads rather than macerated compositional elements, allowing Campos and Maker to stretch would-be vignettes like “Blood and Form” and “Made to Stray” into longer, groove-based song structures. Progress seldom comes without trade-offs, though. Part of Crooks & Lovers‘ ingenuity lay in the way its myriad of stylistic influences (jazz, hip hop, dubstep, R&B, EDM, and electro pop) were furiously chopped and juxtaposed, creating a heretofore unseen palette of new moods and sonic subtleties. In some of Cold Spring‘ more conventionally appealing passages, Mount Kimbie run the risk of imitating genres instead of traversing them – the moody, post-punk throb of “So Many Times, So Many Ways,” the New Wave crush on “Slow,” and an approximation of DJ Shadow’s nocturnal ghost funk on “Lie Near”. They all sound marvelous, but ultimately feel derivative. On the two collaborations with fellow Brit King Krule, Mount Kimbie feel almost like a backing band (albeit, a superb one), although that’s mostly due to the indomitable weight of Archie Marshall’s personality and thick London drawl. But even if the vocals don’t grab a hold of you, rest assured, the undulating bass line during the final minute of “You Took Your Time” will, its melodic hook burrowing hard into the back of your ear canal.

It’s probably less useful to think of Cold Spring Fault Less Youth as better or worse than Crooks & Lovers, and instead accept that it’s slightly different – a well-architected pivot as opposed to the dramatic forward progression that we’ve come to expect from this thing called post-dubstep. What Mount Kimbie have gained in straightforward songcraft, they’ve sacrificed by foregoing some of the tension and surprise found within their diametrically opposed aural experiments. Nothing wows like the jagged guitar sunbeam that arcs out over the digital darkness on Crooks & Lovers‘ “Field,” or the gorgeous hush before the drop on “Mayor.” But the duo’s sounds remain decidedly their own. Even as James Blake trajects further into the mainstream, Mount Kimbie are stationed defiantly on the periphery, now positioned at a different point along the perimeter than where they were three years ago. Their uncanny mix of the tangible and the ethereal remains ever-present – our reward (and theirs) for a restless exploration toward the perfect sound, both of the outside world and ever-inward.

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