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Klein plunges into madness on ‘Tommy’ EP

| Thursday, October 26, 2017

klein pg webCristina Interiano | The Observer

“Unbreak my heart.” Thus, someone opens Klein’s “Tommy” EP with the innocuously-titled “Prologue.” Perhaps it’s the Los Angeles-based producer herself on the microphone, but the voice could just as well belong to one of several friends gathered at the improvisational recording session. The opening line is followed by laughter and jovially intimate studio banter, but the inclusion of these improvisational stop-and-start moments is refreshing rather than clichéd. In fact, they introduce the record’s introspective, panoramic emotional vulnerability; though largely somber, she gently frames this exhibition in terms of loyalty and love.

In the late 18th century, social theorist Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon — the circular prison building that allows one watchperson to constantly observe every inmate, without inmates knowing whether or not they are being watched.

“Tommy” must be the Panopticon’s musical equivalent. The record’s disjointed — yet conjoined — association of open-hearted moments allows Klein to submerge herself in the admixture of ephemeral feeling with empirical imprecision but transcendent meticulousness. Oblique memories shapeshift into premonitions like radiance deflected by shattered mirrors; tragedies collide with reassurances, uncertainties, consolations.

On “Cry Theme,” incorporeal mourning ripples over the central refrain: “I never cry.” But the convulsing piano belies Klein’s internal turbulence, especially when swallowed by the shrill cyclone of incommunicable darkness, growing increasingly noisy like the rising swell of tempestuous waves. She captures the sensation of telling oneself “it’s fine,” knowing that it’s not.

But in this aural panopticon, it’s not always clear who’s observing whom — Klein is both the agent and the object. Perhaps we’re to learn that emotions are like pools of opaque water: Just as Klein actively nosedives into her psyche, so the psyche actively consumes her in return. The producer, after all, only gives the appearance of being in control; quite often throughout the course of the record, she herself is manipulated by fragments of sound — squabbling voices, imploding atmospheres and belligerent kick drums — assume zero-sum agency, contenting for her attention like codependent lovers or backstabbing friends.

This contemplative leitmotif frames virtually every track, but is most visceral in “Tommy.” The track begins quite literally in the rain, but the setting soon zooms on a space crowded by increasingly hostile waxing voices; another moment suddenly breaks the tension, however, filling the room with affirming applause — that is, before the record explodes into the hallucinogenic, uncontrollable percussive volatility of “Runs Reprise.”

Nor does the record offer any resolution to her emotional tumult. Instead, it ends with the dizzying compounded loops of “Farewell Sorry,” over which her ghostly voice hovers unmasked. The track’s title itself feels like an incomplete statement, like the last-minute text messages that inaugurate a broken relationship. Perhaps fittingly — perhaps regrettably — the track ends the record with spatters of disturbing verbal arguments. Hopefully, it’s nothing but the final moments of emotional abuse, ahead of which are better times.

But the record’s abrupt closure may well signal continuity. Perhaps this non-resolution is the logical product of Klein’s unrelenting realism, but this realism also recognizes that suffering is limited; likewise, the record features moments of comfort and safety. These are grounded in loyalty and even sisterhood — the counterpoints to the betrayal within which “Tommy” is set.

Even if the record’s dominant themes are dismal and chaotic, these contending facets offer a brilliant statement on the multidimensionality of emotion.

Artist: Klein

Album: “Tommy”

Label: Hyperdub

Favorite Track: “Cry Theme”

If you like: Yves Tumor, Laurel Halo

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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