King Midas Sound kick off collaborative series in fine form
Collaborations are a hard thing to get right. The balance needs to be right between the parties, but more importantly the songs need to be there. Luckily, on this the first in a series of collaborative albums that King Midas Sound (The Bugs’ Kevin Martin, and vocalists Rober Robinson and Kiki Hitomi) plan to release, the juxtaposition between ambient drone guru Christin Fennesz, Hitomi & Robinson’s vocals and The Bug’s Kevin Martin luxuriously lurid soundscapes makes for an exquisite listen. Edition 1, realised by Ninja Tune, sits somewhere between Martin and Fennesz’ styles, but not in the way you’d expect.
Although the album is broken down into nine tracks, it feels like a continuous piece of music. This is partly down to the lyrical content. Both Hitomi and Robinson’s vocal styles are better suited to laidback contemplating music than out and out bangers. Themes including self-doubt, loss, rejection, regret and, surprisingly, optimism for the future reoccur and permeate Edition 1, as Fennesz delivers intricate flourishes from minimal elements, his raison d’etre, Martin matches this with similarly stark melodies. However the most striking thing about Editions 1 is that two thirds of the album is lacking contemporary beats and bass. Instead of a subtle drum, or synth, we find ourselves with filtered Hi-Hats where we’d expect, from Martin at least, there to be something harder hitting. The lack of bass on the album is also noticeable. At first you don’t realise its missing, but after multiple listens its absence slowly dawns on you. While the tracks don’t need it, it does take some getting used to at first. How many albums recently can you think of that are devoid of bass and drums? What’s even more remarkable is that once you’ve worked out they’re absent, you don’t really miss them.
The only real downside is that neither Martin nor Fennesz take control of each track. While the results are exquisite and striking, we’re left wondering what would have happened is either party had thrown down the gauntlet harder to the other. Instead of trying to match each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they’d pushed the envelope more, like Martin did on the single he released with Earth earlier this year.
What King Midas Sound have effectively done is re-imagined the ambient album. Through sparse use of percussion and beats, they cocoon us, the listener, in a dense veil of miasmic sound, where only the vocalists Robinson and Hitomi can penetrate it to find us. Martin and Co. create confusion and disorder through tender soundscapes touching modulation that, despite the recording process, has warmth and life to it.