Back in 2009, King Midas Sound – Kevin Martin (a.k.a The Bug), poet Roger Robinson and vocalist Kiki Hitomi, released Waiting For You, their debut album. It was a heavily dub influenced LP that featured the bass leaning rhythms and ambience crafted by Martin and the disparate vocal styles of Hitomi and Robinson, each evoking intimacy with their emotive lyrics. For their newest release, Edition 1, the trio have enlisted the help of the Austrian guitarist and electronic musician Christian Fennesz. The LP is the first instalment in a four part series which will see King Midas Sound collaborating with different musicians on each record.
It is perhaps due to the inclusion of Fennesz that Edition 1 feels like a departure from Waiting For You. There are still the trademark contributions from Robinson and Hitomi and the sombre tone from the group’s debut. However, this time, the music is more weighted toward the atmospheric and the ambient, with any percussion or bass being used sparingly. Fennesz’s applications of static and glitch samples feel as though they have been granted a significant role, and rightly so, although the use of guitar is limited over the course of the record. One nice touch is that the album includes all the tracks in their normal as well as instrumental form, meaning that Fennesz’s contribution does not feel marginalised or unappreciated.
The finished product that has emerged out of the collaboration of the two parties is represented no better than in the cover art (See above). Taking a moment to appreciate what at first seems to be quite a plain and understated cover actually gives a rather deep insight into the tone and sound of the record. The initially impenetrable greyness of the artwork is actually marked with subtle differences in shade, in the same way that the record is bathed in swirling and cloudy atmospheres that are all slightly nuanced by the direction of vocals or variances of tone.
Edition 1 is a record that mainly deals with themes of love and loss; desire and despair, as well as the state of modern life. In a press release on Ninja Tune’s website, the group’s latest effort is termed “an ultimate parting note drifting into absolute loneliness, swept up in a sumptuously blurred, dronal haze“. As melodramatic as that may sound, the sentiments contained in that summary do ring true across the record.
One moment where that sentence is patently obvious is in “Waves”. Here, Robinson engages in a Milton-esque or postdiluvian dirge on an ideal being lost to a malicious and apocalyptic deluge; a disparaging cry over a formerly held but now unobtainable happiness. The prophetic vocals on this track float on a layer of reverb and delay, all the while sitting in front of a suitably grim sounding knell that echoes out a shudderingly gloomy melody. In fact, the whole record is drowned in melancholy, metaphorically alluded to throughout the record via the previously mentioned references to the sea and being consumed and lost within it.
Surprisingly, for a record that features expansive soundscapes and ambient spaces, it proves a very claustrophobic listening experience. As said before, the vocals that Robinson and Hitomi lay down create an incredible intimacy. They feel as if they are projecting straight from the subconscious; spilling whispered anxieties and paranoid thoughts onto the stark spaces created by the tracks. All the voices on the album are recorded in a way that produces a feeling of fragility and that they are on the brink of total decay, much like the voices that sometimes arise from within one’s own self. This makes the track feel akin to the ripped out pages from the diary of a depressed and isolated individual trying to come to terms with their loneliness.
The record’s opening track “Mysteries” has Robinson lamenting over the unknowability of one’s partners and questioning “how much love is lived“. The view of the world that Robinson expounds is a turbid and cloudy matrix of one’s own thoughts as well as those of others, a vision that is complimented excellently by the sheets of acidic static that drip and burn into the deep, throbbing piano chords that slump along the bottom of the track. Robinson’s vocals are also incorporated in a way that is suggestive of unease and dislocation. His voice precariously drifts in relative motion to the tracks rhythms; never being completely out of synchronisation but likewise never fully meshing.
“Lighthouse” revolves around a plea to a former lover for reconciliation made from a removed and remote position. Robinson whispers in languid desperation that he has “been searching for some safe ground“, displaying a sense of being lost in the void without his partner; a stranded ship searching for its lighthouse. Again, as with all the record, the music that the vocals merge with mirrors the lyrical content well.
“Melt” sees Robinson revealing past intimacies with another lover. It traces a break up from mourning through to the resolution period and the search for a new partner. All the while, it evokes a sense of how the repetition of modern existence and the metaphorical fog it creates constantly swirl around us. It is as though Robinson has seen a cyclical structure to life and the relationships we form, cut it open at the place it loops and laid it out for examination over the bleak and vaguely industrial sounds that are conjured up.
During the record, there are also moments where the tone becomes slightly lighter. This is most obvious in the thirteen minute instrumental track “Above Water”, a title that suggests the track is in isolation from the depths the majority of the LP is submerged to. By virtue of being an instrumental, there are also no lyrics which dictate the tone of the track. Instead, the atmospheres created allow the listener an opportunity for ethereal relaxation as they plummet in slow motion through the ambient greyness.
Also, on “We Walk Together”, Hitomi gently croons over the desire for a fresh start – or at least not a separation – in a relationship. She delivers her lyrics in a hushed, intimate manner that has a haunting yet adorable romanticism to it. Similarly “Our Love” comports itself as a strangely unsettling ode to the subject of Robinson’s affections. If you are into ambient, slightly dub flecked, music than there are only a few moments where the record slumps. For me, “Loving Or Leaving” was a track that didn’t quite make the grade. It actually has a magnificent intro, probably one of the best on the LP, but it devolves into a clunky and cumbersome track that clomps along with uninspired percussion and a clichéd, monotonous bassline.
All the cuts on Edition 1 combine to form an eerily comforting mixture that has the potential to guide you through your darkest, most vulnerable moments by providing you with insights into those of others. However, the LP is not all blurry eyed and directly motivational. It is stained with strained longing, isolation and anguish. As a listener, you are wrapped in an intimate shroud of emotions which switch in character from being beautifully soothing to inductive of depression; a really deep experience if you want a moody, brooding and affecting listen. Edition 1 is out now via Ninja Tune, purchase it here.
Words by Nick Bimson