It probably isn’t surprising, given their epic popularity, but Radiohead’s Kid A is still the definitive benchmark for weird. That is, weird in music, which is the only weird that can be experienced for free and at minimal cost to your bandwidth, making it, ironically, the most accessible form of weird that there is. The legendary culture wonk Paul Morley, in his book Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, a chronicle of his travels through pop music history with a robotic Kylie Minogue, included a list of 88 albums for “if you think Radiohead’s Kid A is weird.”
It always struck me as absurd that Radiohead’s meditation on not sounding like Radiohead was considered all that avant-garde, particularly when you consider that it was composed of sounds most kids could get out of an hour of fucking around with Fruity Loops. Furthermore, it really wore its influences on its sleeve. In particular, the album owes an appreciable amount of its aesthetics to Warp Records and their artists Aphex Twin and Autechre. The British label’s latest release Cold Spring Fault Less Youth by London duo Mount Kimbie, probably owes as much to Kid A as it does to Selected Ambient Works Volume II. It’s the taste of a new generation.
The album opens with Home Recording — stretchy organs are quickly joined by a disjointed, chop’d’n’screwed beat. The duo, having fallen in love with playing live after touring 2010’s bedroom odyssey Crooks & Lovers, decided to lend their own singing to Cold Spring Fault Less Youth. Their unpolished, amateurish voices make the warbled vocals of Home Recording sound isolated and eerie, as though they are echoing from the back of your mind. It sets the tone for the rest of the album. Vocals have never been a prominent part of Mount Kimbie’s sound and the new album is no different. They don’t edge towards the forefront, but rather remain floating, lost in the kaleidoscopic sonics of the album.
On You Took Your Time, the lazy beat and slurred drawl of King Krule – “Now did you see me, I killed a man / They all stayed down, but he chose to stand” – recall Tricky and Faithless, complete with urban war zone imagery and a space jazz soundbed. The gauzy, swirling synths and high-pitched trills of Break Well play like a robot lullaby before a beat-drop sends them cruising, steadily and rhythmically. Then watch electrons march like ants with Blood And Form, whose reverb-laden vocals and muffled live drums make this elegiac track one nightmarish number.
Made To Stray is a hypnotic, skin-crawling motherfucker of a track. The gauzy synths now buzz and whine like an insect keeping you up at night, the heartbeat-sounding kick drum and new-waveish vocals combine to make something at once ambient and groovy. The meandering live bass of instrumental filler track So Many Times, So Many Ways seems like a waste after the surprising funk of tracks like Before I Move Off from Crooks & Lovers. Lie Near heartily runs the Brian Eno gamut. The tribal tom-tom, 3-note synth line and further street-pontification of King Krule make Meter, Pale, Tone an interesting and jaunty trip through everything from Animal Collective to Talking Heads to Toto, and Slow features rather prominently the respiration of The Iron Giant, and is replete with new wave furnishings. Finally, the chill of the glitchy and minimal Sullen Ground and the Tangerine Dream furnishings of the glorious Fall Out recede the twilight and invite the dawn. Or the other way around, whichever way you wanna look at it.
Cold Spring Fault Less Youth isn’t a maturation, nor is it much of an expansion. The duo’s sound is still sequestered, warm and safe in the bedroom, and it remains blissfully hermetic for most the album’s 11 tracks. There are times when it’s obvious that while there is a will towards a more expansive and live sound, the dance music dynamics are so embedded in the duo that they can’t stray from simply adding layers in order to bring dynamism to a song. But, as a result of this, the album is hypnotic and blissfully detached the way a truly live sounding Mount Kimbie couldn’t be. Cold Spring Fault Less Youth is an enjoyable and beautiful gazing through the View-Master, but, knowing what’s good for it, it never tells you what to see.