Reviewed— Braille Face, Chunyin, Krakatau.
Braille Face’s Kōya
Kōya, the debut record from Braille Face, sounds like it’s headed somewhere. It hasn’t told you how it’s gonna get there, or even where it’s headed, but it’s got some form of destination in it’s head there somewhere — muddled in between traumatic thoughts. Another thing that’s kinda strange too is that Braille Face’s (real name Jordan White) debut record sounds like a long-form version of the last thing you’d ever say to someone before you stepped out forever.
Maybe it’s not so strange. Six years is a long time. That was the length of White’s destructive relationship which ran its course ‘bout midway through a 12-month record project White had started. Originally it was intended as a simple musical practice exercise, but culminated in an unintended abyssal stare that ended the foundation of his life.
Dog, house, job, girl; everything was adequately nuclear and suburban, but the music White made in that 12-month period stared back into him in a way that he never could’ve expected. What he, and eventually we, are left with, is Kōya, White’s debut on Melbourne label Spirit Level.
So now we know why Kōya feels more like a farewell than a greeting. The 12 songs here each plot an ending, or some element of it. Each are intimate in their own way, sharing scenes from White’s relationship as though it were a play, even mining that theory at times for some slightly tacky lyricism — ‘Dark Matter’ has White singing about scripts, stages and audiences privy to the destruction of his relationship.
‘Because’ reaches the deepest of this intimacy. As White recites his confessionals, you’re listening to the mechanics of his piano just as much as the notes themselves. The hammers striking the keys, White’s foot bouncing upon the pedals. It’s an incredibly raw base recording, complimented with Thom Yorke-esque vocal manipulation and soft synthesizers crackling underneath.
Speaking of Yorke, he crops up as an influence elsewhere as well. If ‘To Where We Sink’ doesn’t remind you of ‘Pyramid Song’ I don’t know what to tell you, but White isn’t purely beholden to his influences, opting to layer ‘To Where We Sink’ with synthesizers that’ll envelop you whole, and a drum beat that errs perfectly into the experimental.
‘Backwards/Medicated’ is White’s attempt at a Spirit Level speciality, the ‘sad-banger’, and it’s honestly masterful. Not just content in thumping bass and dark pianos, White imbues the track with incredible momentum, a rolling percussion sample that tumbles downwards along with White’s wavering-yet-certain vocal delivery.
There are spots of playful experimentation too, like ‘Bristlecone Pine’ and ‘Daniel’. They’re each somewhat compelling in their own way, but both stick too hard to one-note ideas that leave them evaporating out of your mouth before you’ve even got your head around them. Others, like ‘Oscillations’ are just straight up annoying.
Ultimately, Kōya isn’t just a statement of loneliness and grief, it’s also one of acceptance. I’m not sure if naming your first record after an ancient Buddhist monastery is a little on-the-nose coming from a sad piano tinkling Melbournite — feels a little ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ — but White’s convictions in this new sound can’t be denied.
Chunyin’s Code Switch EP
Australia’s heading into some kinda unforgiving house/techno nirvana it seems. Friendships, Null, Habits, and now, Chunyin: a new project from Sydney’s alternative pop golden-kid Rainbow Chan.
Something about Code Switch screams side-project, not looking to draw your attention away from those aforementioned trail-blazers above, more a happy bonus released from the Chan camp to satisfy her clearly voracious appetite for artistic expression. Don’t get me wrong, it’s powerful shit; sounding like the kind of stuff that would echo up from the deepest euro club going into it’s 27th hour, hellish and determined.
‘Emporium’ layers a Gatling laser synthesizer over a wide maw of bass and percussion, with ‘Fei’ and ‘Shi’ playing with sampling and instrumentation with a kitchen-sink approach; Chan isn’t making hi-gloss drones for you to tap your Stans too, this is sweaty shit.
Krakatau’s Tharsis Montes/Apogean Tide
The Tharsis Montes are three large shield volcanos on Mars. The largest, Ascraeus Mons, stands at fifteen kilometres high. For comparison, the largest volcano on Earth, Manua Loa in Hawaii, stands at just nine kilometres.
They were discovered by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1971, appearing out of the haze during an enormous global dust-storm enveloping Mars. Like space itself, the Tharsis Montes are gigantic — their history and context will not be known to us within this lifetime, something that is all the more formidable given that the alignment of the volcanos, a straight shot up the surface of the planet, is unlikely to be a coincidence. The Tharsis Montes are an example of looking into the expanse and finding nothing but your own insignificance, the unknowable complexities of an infinite universe crushing down upon you.
I’m not sure if this is what Krakatau were attempting to bottle with their new 12”, but they enter the atmosphere of something foreign and exciting all the same.
The period during which the Tharsis Montes were discovered falls during the formative years of jazz fusion, and Krakatau draw from this world with a nostalgic cosmic playfulness.
Over the two songs and roughly twenty minutes that fill Tharsis Montes/Apogean Tide time signatures warp and sounds coalesce, the quartet sliding through melody and instrumental breaks with an astounding technical proficiency. It’s inevitably a reminder of BADBADNOTGOOD, a group that started off with jazz renditions of hip-hop backing beats and ended up making underdeveloped psychedelic jazz-pop. Krakatau, unlike BBNG, begin fearless and simply gain confidence over the course of TM/AT.