Kid Koala / Emilíana Torrini

Music to Draw To: Satellite

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Innovative turntablist and graphic novelist Kid Koala (Eric San) has used the title Music to Draw To for a series of winter events, during which he plays slow, quiet records suitable for concentration while working on a project. Over time, the events have incorporated original instrumentation, resulting in live ambient compositions. With his wondrous 2017 release Music to Draw To: Satellite, San has expanded the concept into a full album, forgoing his usual style of whimsical sample collage for a deeply reflective set of ambient pop songs. For the first time on a Kid Koala release, there are no samples to be heard anywhere on this album. San played all of the instruments by himself, including a multitude of synthesizers, guitars, percussion instruments, and effects. While he does utilize turntables for textural purposes, their eerie scratching and whirring sounds aren't the focal point of the recordings. San also wrote the album's lyrics, and in order to help conjure up a wintry atmosphere, he enlisted one of his favorite singers, Icelandic vocalist Emilíana Torrini. On the surface, the album might initially sound more like one of her albums than his. However, even though the trudging beats of "Adrift" are played by live drums rather than sampled from a grimy old record, somehow it's hard to imagine them being produced by anyone but Kid Koala. His style of arrangement is unmistakable, even if he's never attempted anything like this before. On instrumental opener "The Observable Universe," a smoothly flowing bassline is weightlessly threaded through a mass of synth-strings, bass accordion drones, and slightly unsettling noises. The album's three "Transmission" interludes are some of the simplest but most affecting tracks on the album, particularly the third one, which suspends wispy acoustic guitar and Torrini's delicate voice in chilly midair thanks to a generous amount of Echoplex usage. "The Hubble Constant" covers a fat, throbbing bassline with twinkling keyboard notes imitating snowflakes, bringing to mind the Icelandic group Múm at their early-2000s peak. At the end of the album, Torrini sings that she's being carried through the dark while in a dream, and the listener is likely to feel the same way.

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