Franz Kafka wrote about animals a lot: a monstrous insect, a young panther in a menagerie, a mouse named Josephine who wants to surprise you with her song, a dog who sees a powerful triumvirate of other dogs levitate and thinks about it. He wrote about these creatures in unusual, exhausting, wickedly funny prose. Russian composer Ekaterina Shilonosova, who plays Kate NV, shares a similar sensibility with the Austro-Hungarian writer: on her excellent fourth album, WOW, there is a set of animals, and she is strict and capricious with them.
In WOW, NV Drops the Slightly More Readable Songs of 2020 room for the moon, and the cohesion of 2018 for, opting instead for a deliciously fractured inscrutability. WOW it’s thick and hypersaturated with tacky synths, field recordings, and heavily manipulated vocals. Call it maximalism; call it pop music for people who enjoy Karlheinz Stockhausen so much and Lisa Frank. It exists in an area NV has been working on for a while, one that involves fermenting and reinventing everything from Japanese city pop to the new ECM series to cheesy ’80s hits. )”, which features Japanese lyrics penned by Foodman, feels like being inside a pinball machine: every blink of the synth lights up brightly, bouncing erratically from point A to B.
Each song is its own absurd room. Like previous records, WOW makes good use of Found Sound Nation’s Broken Orchestra sample pack, sourced from damaged instruments from Philadelphia public schools. On “Dinner Table Confessions,” there are synths that sound like they’re laughing or yawning, field recordings of a door opening, the sound of clinking dishes. Violin and clarinet broke in at the midpoint. It’s like a food fight, depicted in the aesthetic of Věra Chytilová. Daisies, where two girls in flower crowns stomp around a table drinking brandy and throwing cake at each other, fucking everyone they meet.
But NV music is not cheesy. Just because something is cute doesn’t mean it’s not rigorous, and its playfulness serves a purpose: By upsetting expectations, it’s meant to keep you on your toes. His songs are biased, oblique. “razmishlenie (to think)” is constructed in such a way that one would think it would eventually depressurize, but it doesn’t; it remains at the same intensity level for the duration of the song. There’s no payoff, but not in a way that’s necessarily disappointing. His music can be an exercise; their self-containment can be almost alienating.
Maybe it’s because there isn’t necessarily a narrative. you couldn’t say that WOW is about anything. Instead, it’s defined by its aesthetic cohesion, a beautiful sense of formal gravitas that dominates the record’s surreal collection.
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