WPGM Recommends: Kai Whiston – Drayan! (Album Review)

The past few years have seen the growth and the blooming popularity of a number of genres through the release of albums that exemplify and push these styles to their limits. 100 gecs and food house have taken hyperpop and bubblegum bass to their extremes. Black Country, New Road and black midi have championed a resurgence in post-punk with both groups now beginning to blend elements of jazz into their sound.

Another genre that has notably began to pick up momentum since around 2018, are the sounds of deconstructed club which take a kind of post-industrial approach to club music by creating these aggressive and overblown soundscapes filled with frantic percussive elements and an overall apocalyptic sound design. Kai Whiston is an artist whose music is a shining example of this sound.

His 2018 debut album Kai Whiston Bi**h is full of the hallmarks of this blooming genre with constant switch-ups and atonality along with explosive sounding percussion that veers on the edge of over-bearing but never fully crosses the line. It is an incredibly abrasive sound but if you can push past the initial off-putting nature, there is some truly exceptional music to be found here.

Since this project, Kai has released his second album, a number of singles and worked with a variety of fellow artists such as Iglooghost, BABii, Shygirl and the late SOPHIE, further exploring this genre and creating bodies of work to support it.

Kai’s newest mixtape, Drayan! takes the typical qualities of deconstructed club and morphs them into a much more extra-terrestrial and sci-fi style with alien soundscapes and indiscernible vocals that tell the story of the album artwork’s disfigured character.

Made in collaboration with exhibition artist Janaina Tschäpe, the mixtape is Whiston’s interpretation of the artist’s ‘After the Rain’ series featuring these lumpy and disformed figures placed in unexpected landscapes that have inspired the sonic design of the project.

Opener “Hybrid Child” features this spacious and ethereal soundscape that is bolstered by strings and these stuttering drums that never truly settle into a recognisable groove before the second half explodes into a crescendo that elevates the sci-fi sounds of the track and serves as the perfect teaser for what this mixtape is set to be.

The title track has a much more visible groove, almost giving off a sort of hip-hop feel and is the first instance of those muddled vocals where the lyrics are almost impossible to make out. It is one of the few tracks on the project where a notable rhythm can be made out providing some sort of guide through the alien palette that Kai uses to craft his music.

“Enabling Dreamtime Communication Via Distortion Implant Device” is a highlight for two reasons. One, is obviously the title and two, is that this is a much more downtempo moment on Drayan! with less emphasis on the percussion and the vocals becoming somewhat clearer.

It remains this way for the majority of the runtime before the sounds build into this overblown wall of sound that skirts on the brink of becoming deafening.

The next track “Bothering Me” is almost the polar opposite of “Enabling…” with these warped and robotic sounds surrounding a manic scream that serves as the catalyst for the whole beat. The first half honestly reminds me of a sci-fi and alien version of some “Exmilitary” era Death Grips, which is a sentence I am so happy that I got to write.

The penultimate track “Held” is possibly one of my favourites from the project with this slowly building soundscape and clearer vocals that progressively become more chopped up before everything is stopped by a short silence and the track explodes into this onslaught of noise and distortion. That silence before the climax is truly one of the best moments on the whole mixtape.

Finally, the closer “Betty” is a pretty acoustic track that runs of the risk of beginning to sound like some typical indie-folk track before these swells in the background and the vocals return us to the alien soundscapes we are used to.

The vocals here are possibly at their clearest helping to offer some quite intimate and affective harmonies before the final moments of the track once again become muddled and distorted and escalate into pure noise.

There is no doubt that deconstructed club is an off-putting and jarring genre. Over the past few years Kai Whiston and his fellow artists such as Arca, Iglooghost and Sega Bodega have created tracks that on the surface are quite messy and overblown but beneath that are incredibly engaging and wonderfully enjoyable.

Drayan! is an at times abrasive project. The sounds that Kai has created here are intentionally otherworldly and unfamiliar built on atmosphere and space rather than focusing on rhythm and clarity in the music. But this is absolutely not to be interpreted as a bad thing. This is some of the most creative sound design I have heard in a long time.

Kai Whiston’s Drayan! mixtape is out now via MCMXCV, download and purchase it here and stream it below.

Words by Tom Owen

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