Speaking about last year’s breakout album EARS, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith said that she, “wanted it to feel like you’re going through a sonic journey, like a 3D motion ride through a futuristic jungle”, a brief she certainly succeeded in attaining with her unique combination of orchestral composition techniques with the sonic near limitlessness of modular synthesis. If EARS was a jungle, then The Kid is somewhere alien, as equally teeming with life and energy as a jungle, but where everything is new, achieving a similar sense of wonder to Icelandic band müm’s Finally We Are No One through its synthesised but organic sounding instrumentation. Both albums communicate a similar oneness with nature, but Smith’s concepts incorporate a Hindu perspective, with the singer stating in interviews that The Kid is supposed to reflect the four stages of life in Hindu dharma.
There’s definitely something spiritual about how Smith subtly incorporates woodwind instrumentation and the way some pieces seem to be constantly ascending, building in tension until they finally break through and resolve harmonically. Some of these moments are genuinely breathtaking, like on second track ‘An Intention’, on which a repeated vocal phrase reaches slightly higher with every cycle before allowing the instrumental to take over and fully resolve. Title track ‘A Kid’ is more beat driven, but retains the organic sounds of other tracks, evoking images of a very well organised animal migration. Smith’s sung parts seems unnecessary though, a complaint that resurfaces a couple of other times during The Kid’s 51 minutes. While she did sing on EARS, Smith’s voice features far more prominently on The Kid, but the instrumentals are so well produced and interesting on their own that having Smith’s vocal parts can seem unnecessary. There’s certain tracks where her voice appears out of nowhere in the middle of a really engaging instrumental passage, throwing off the track for a bit before a more complimentary instrumental section arrives.
That said, Smith’s voice also provides some of the album’s best moments. For example, ‘I Am Learning’ layers several tracks of Smith’s voice at its climax, creating a kind of chant that’s really effective at evoking the theme of spirituality. ‘To Follow and Lead’ also features a very catchy wordless melody from Smith as a kind of faux-hook. ‘To Feel Your Best’ is the album’s closer and crowning moment, using samples of Smith’s voice to create a drone. The song also features an almost dancehall-like rhythm which is odd to hear performed on such subtle, plinky percussion. The song just builds and builds, ascending and ascending, reintroducing the drone and then some woodwind, then strings. Even the fade out, which features only the modular, is beautiful.
Unfamiliar with Hindu dharma as I am, I can’t communicate on how well the album incorporates this theme, but what I can say is that The Kid is an engaging listen with plenty of otherworldly sounds and some genuinely brilliant moments. It seems incredible that someone had to programme these sounds considering just how dense some of the compositions can get. Hopefully she can continue her current run of yearly albums into next year, as she consistently provides some of the most engaging music available today.
Words by Jack Hollis