Local Love: Black Kite
Black Kite. Photo: Amy Monroe Photography
As someone who sees more live music than pretty much anyone I know, I’d never lie and say that a live performance wasn’t what would lead me to an artist’s music. There’s something about the energy, the way the band and the audience mesh together, and the way a song comes across in a live setting that has always been what I gravitate towards. However, when I first heard dark electronica duo Black Kite, I had listened to their music before catching one of their intense live shows. At the time, I remember telling a mutual friend of myself and the band’s that I thought it was one of the best albums I’d heard in a long time. When I found out that they were heading into Houston’s famed SugarHill Studios with Grammy winner Dan Workman this year to record the follow up release to their debut, I was pretty certain that they would come out with something worth checking out. What comes forth is probably the most forward and progressive electronic records you can hear. The album Soft Animus Heart takes the listener on a journey that never leads you towards the path that you think it will lead you to. There’s no genre specific intent, the drums are raw, and the vocals have more depth and intense emotion that it feels like demons are being excised in every breathy note. There’s an energy that isn’t fraudulent and the end result is what feels like the most intriguing album you’ve ever given yourself the treat to listen to.
There’s a beauty to how these two approach how a song is crafted, thus made obvious with the choice of off kilter electronics on the opening track, “Hunted and Open.” The low timbre of Vicki Tippit’s vocals are almost menacing while feeling pain stricken as James Templeton’s drums keep the pace alongside synths that come from somewhere unknown. These melodies appear out of left field where synths dance onto the track like a ghostly apparition while these two begin to take the listener on a journey that never disappoints. Templeton keeps things raw and on-keel throughout, as there are moments where he and Tippit feel like they’re in their own world. The unaltered vocals from Tippit alone would be enough for any listener to fall in love with the pain that sits in the bellows of her voice. However Templeton takes his percussive stabs to a whole new level by beating the kit down like he’s punishing a bully who’s stolen his lunch money for the last decade. They follow this with the more structured and focused sound of “Dark Details” that deters a bit from the version we heard earlier this year on the NextWave compilation. The way in which Tippit’s vocals have been added together to create these gorgeous melodies on top, behind, and alongside one another is nothing short of magical. With production from birdmagic, who contributed to the track prior to leaving the group, the song has a little more intensity with the multiple vocal tracks higher in the mix as well as a stunning solo vocal that cries into the night like a painful howl. Though it’s essentially the same track, the electronics and vocals are both higher in the mix giving the song an overall feeling of something completely different.
There are two very distinct stand out tracks on this album, the first being the third song, “Wanting.” There’s nothing conventional in how Black Kite approaches a song and “Wanting” is the hardest evidence of that. The out of left field bleep bop sounds that begin the song, the electro-harmonic synths that create a beat, and a vocal cluster pierced by Tippit’s haunting and dissonant vocals that cut through them all while Templeton plays the most on point drums of the release. The synths come across like a mixture of early seventies modulations and contemporary electronics in a way that truly sets the song apart from the herd while Tippit softly adds these lustrous tones from her honest voice. The multiple beats and electronic pieces are closer to an aria than anything happening in the music world today. Though the track goes past the normal run time for an electronic song, you’re on the edge of your seat throughout the entire narrative which feels like it ends too quickly when the song is over. This is followed up by another stand out track, “Terror.” I’m not sure if words can do this song justice, as the band breaks all traditional forms in their approach and craft of the arrangements that dance on and off of the track. The multiple electronic beats and Templeton’s drums that begin the song alone would be enough, but Tippit’s vocal prowess and synthesized notes make the song one of the most progressive and catchy tracks you’ll hear. The intense power that these two create together is definitely showcased here, where Templeton’s drumming is at the top of its game and Tippit takes the listener on a journey through vocal cries that seem to tell a dark story while they cry for answers to questions that feel like they’ve been asked for a lifetime. Though the anti religion sentiments in the lyrics find their way onto many of the tracks, the prowess of them is at the forefront here while they never deter you from what the band creates musically.
The squealing and distorted guitar that begins the final track, “Apostate” is the only traditional thing about the song. The darkness that the electronics create while Templeton drums alongside a footwork paced beat are truly bereft and embodied in the deepest parts of the ocean. When Tippit comes in after varying synths sound that like doors closing in a dungeon in a dystopian future, she cuts through the darkness that the orchestrated electronics create. James is playing with such an understated intensity here, that you can feel a tension that never comes off as fake. A thick bassline emanates while Tippit’s vocals sound like they’re coming through a darkened hallway where light never pierces through. There’s such despair, such loneliness, and such an empty feeling to the track, that the rawest of painful emotions are all that come across in each and every note. There’s never a moment throughout the song, that clocks in at a hair under seven and a half minutes. that feels lengthy. The ultimate takeaway is that even Black Kite can make what the world would consider a long track feel intimate and insular without forcing you to look up at the clock from start to finish.
This is the most forward electronic album I’ve heard since the first time I heard anything from Aphex Twin. The way in which Black Kite throws away all conventional aspects of their genre while adding pop elements that never feel like pop songs is truly masterful, and make this the most important album to come out of Houston in a very long time. It makes you wonder how long it will be until this band lands somewhere like Warp Records where they already feel like they belong. In the past where you could compare this band to acts like Zola Jesus or Chelsea Wolfe, this album proves that those days are gone and that Black Kite is so far ahead of everyone else, that they no longer have an equal and every other act can now be compared to them.
You can get your own copy of Soft Animus Heart at Walters for the band’s album release party on Saturday September 17th. The all ages show with doors at 8 pm and a $10 cover has sets from DJ Alexo, Rose Ette, and Mouthing, and will feature an ultra limited edition packaging of the album as well as a cassette version from Miss Champagne Records.