Káryyn

Quanta Series

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For an artist releasing her debut album, Káryyn has a remarkably rich history: A Syrian-Armenian-American who was raised in Indiana but maintained close ties with her overseas family, her world changed with the 2011 deaths of two of her relatives in Aleppo. For the next 18 months, Káryyn went into seclusion, grieving and creating in private at her sister's home in upstate New York. This period of isolation was also the beginning of her personal and artistic rebirth. For the next seven years, she traveled the world, writing songs that she self-released in 2017 and 2018. She collects those songs -- as well as three new tracks -- on The Quanta Series, a fittingly ambitious first album for a musician who initially earned renown for her work on the opera Of Light. On tracks such as "Ever," Káryyn's multi-octave vocals and glitchy productions call to mind the work of Arca, Holly Herndon, and Björk (who became a fan after attending a performance of Of Light in Reykjavik). Over the course of The Quanta Series, however, Káryyn's music reveals a singular depth. As she connects the personal, global, scientific, and spiritual dimensions of healing, she performs a masterful balancing act. On "Purgatory," she unites the autobiographical and the political aspects of her music seamlessly, transforming a childhood memory of being trapped in a mountain cave in Syria into an extended metaphor for the trust needed to heal from a traumatic past. Similarly, on "Aleppo," she juxtaposes her memories of the city's ancient roots with decidedly futuristic sounds. Káryyn could have expressed her losses in an angry, cathartic way, but The Quanta Series focuses on reflection and growth, particularly in its contemplative midsection. Káryyn's hypnotic version of the traditional Armenian folk song "Ambets Gorav" is her most overt homage to her heritage, and the way it leads into the timeless-sounding choral layers of "Un-c2-See" and "Mirror Me" speaks to the searching qualities of her music as well as the multitudes it contains. Despite the album's conceptually dense nature, it never feels remote, even when Káryyn compares her grieving process to the separation of cells on "Cytokinesis" or yearns for a relationship that transcends time over backing vocals that are a stream of ones and zeroes on "Binary." She ends The Quanta Series with one of its most affecting, and direct, statements of purpose: "The Segment and the Line," the first song she wrote for the album, is an equally uplifting and heartbreaking meditation on connections both lost and enduring. Moments like these are so fully realized that The Quanta Series feels more like a summation of Káryyn's powers than an introduction to them, but regardless, it's a stunning debut.

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