tue 30/05/2017

CD: KRTS - Close Eyes to Exit | reviews, news & interviews

CD: KRTS - Close Eyes to Exit

CD: KRTS - Close Eyes to Exit

Rap, jungle, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bowie, politics and more are grist to the mill

Although there are unplaceable and alien tones, and heavy reference to 21st-century rap and Nineties jungle, nothing here sounds computery
'The record is infused with personal and political fears about the world, and it shows'

This has been a truly glorious year for electronica albums. Records by the likes of Arca, Kode9, Jlin, James Place and Rabit showed digital music could still feel like it was writing the future, while others like Altered Natives, The Orb, Syracuse and Levon Vincent made the decades-old templates of house, techno and chillout still feel as fresh as you like, and one-offs like King Midas Sound & Fennesz simply occupied their own unique emotional space. And it's into that final category that the second album by KRTS, AKA Kurtis Hairston, falls.

Hairston is an African-American producer from Brooklyn, relocated to Berlin where the Project:Mooncircle label is based. The imprint has specialised in electronic listening music that's a step or two removed from current club trends, but is high on melody, poised intricacy and actual song structures. KRTS's debut, 2012's The Dread of an Unknown Evil, was excellent, if not entirely distinctive post-dubstep music, heavy on the digital processing, while The Foreigner EP the following year saw him relax, strip back the jiggery-pokery and settle down into crafting each sound and each song. Here, he's gone all the way with those latter tendencies and truly hit his stride.

The second half of the record is a surge of often absolutely overwhelming beauty

Although there are unplaceable and alien tones in play, and heavy reference to the rhythms of 21st-century rap and Nineties jungle, nothing here sounds “computery”. In fact, it sounds more like the expensive, painstakingly crafted experiments of Seventies studio voyagers – Norman Whitfield, say, or even Bowie, Eno and Visconti during their Berlin years. There are strings, bells and harpsichords, rhythms constructed of layered handclaps and jingling tambourines, and vocal harmonies that wash over and through you like Crosby, Stills & Nash somersaulting in outer space.

It starts edgy and rhythmically led, and it's not all an easy listen at first. Hairston has made clear that the record is infused with personal and political fears about the world and his place in it, and it shows. But the personal and political are here woven together into something more: a third of the way in, as the tension rises through “Serve & Protect” featuring Sacramento rapper Mad Flows, the sawing strings of “Convict the Butchers” and the skittery rhythms of “White Privilege”, then the dam breaks, and from the utterly astounding “My Head is Jumping” on in, the second half of the record is a surge of often absolutely overwhelming beauty.

Tensions and grit remain, but they are part of a far more complex pattern along with tranquility and vast, sublime flows of emotion. This exists way outside of the artificial oppositions of modernist/retro, underground/overground, weird/accessible. It is just a singular, beautiful personal statement.

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