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Mount Kimbie’s new record is perfectly fine, at best

| Thursday, September 21, 2017

MT Kimie banner web (1)Cristina Interiano | The Observer

What’s that band you wholeheartedly enjoy, wholeheartedly trust — yet which nobody else seems to notice? For me, that’s easily Mount Kimbie.

I’d been converted many years ago, upon the release of “Cold Spring Fault Less Youth,” their 2013 sophomore full-length record; it was one of the first vinyl records I ever owned. Still today, I return to that record frequently enough; it is dark, industrial fuzziness — like the factory floor rendered on 8mm film — but it’s my aural “happy place.”

You don’t have to love it. Critics thought it was solid, if somewhat redundant; and they were basically right. To each their own.

So, I was surprised when Mount Kimbie zoomed back into my radar this fall with the release of “Love What Survives,” their follow up to “Cold Spring.” The electronic duo’s return was something of an inevitability; but this time, critics are eating it up.

This strikes me as hopelessly ironic, because “Love What Survives” is what I’d call “horizontal” mobility; less a leap than a stumble forward — if it’s a forward step at all.

On the new record, the duo plays down the industrial aesthetic, though the sound is still as moody and fuzzy as the album sleeve. Conversely, there is a greater emphasis on vocals, with five collaborative tracks against the two on “Cold Spring;” notably, James Blake makes an appearance twice, while frequent flyer King Krule (Archie Marshall) returns on “Blue Train Lines.”

Unfortunately, the new record demonstrates that Mount Kimbie is something of a “one-trick pony,” and suggests that the duo exhausted many of its ideas on “Cold Spring.” While the record’s moderate stylistic departures from Mount Kimbie’s backlog are well-advised, they leave the duo grasping at straws that would keep the record together.

Guest vocalists don’t complement, but dominate their respective feature tracks. “You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure)” centers around Andrea Balency’s quite plain voice, and the production itself is nothing above basic. It’s not bad, but nothing that should bring the listener back by any means.

King Krule’s renewed inclusion was reason to be optimistic, as his two features on “Cold Spring” were easily among the record’s best tracks. But “Blue Train Lines” is among Marshall’s weakest performances, as he audibly overexerts his voice on the track, and Mount Kimbie’s cookie-cutter production does nothing to redeem him.

The two James Blake features, however, are particularly troubling. “We Go Home Together” is a solid track, but reproduces Blake’s trademarks — the sulky organ, the slow dub — so closely that the extent of Mount Kimbie’s contribution is unclear, if not inaudible. And while “How We Got By” does feel more like a collaboration, Blake’s layered voice still carries the track; that’s a shame, because the duo’s own delightful vocals go disgracefully underused.

The record’s central problem becomes painfully acute when one listens closely to the duo’s solo instrumental tracks. “Audition” goes nowhere fast over the course of four forgettable minutes. And if you’ve ever read an essay only to realize that you’ve zoned out through its entirety, then know that tracks like “SP12 Beat” and even “Delta” produce the musical equivalent of this effect. Even the album opener, “Four Years and One Day” — though a promising setup for the record — feels somehow incomplete, as though it ends before it begins.

There are two moments of redemption on the record: the beautiful “Marilyn,” which features Micachu’s vocals, and solo track “T.A.M.E.D.” Both feel like fully developed songs and uniquely demonstrate Mount Kimbie’s soulful production style.

These, however, are the exception. In a stifling way, many of the tracks could be the worst track of an otherwise excellent record. There is a hint of greatness in each cut’s melange of various colorful concepts. But rather than painting a series of dynamic sonic portraits, Mount Kimbie formulaically blends these dyes down to a dull gray smoothie instead.


Artist: Mount Kimbie

Album: “Love What Survives”

Label: Warp Records

Favorite Track: “T.A.M.E.D.” “Marilyn (ft. Micachu)”

If you like: “study music”

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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