K.I.A. Neuphoria Rating: **** REVIEWED BY
The land of pop electronica can be a brittle place, where all angles are right and air is not an essential element of life. The beat becomes the pulse of a deadened sensitivity.
Shinjuku ZULU, the extraordinary debut disc by Toronto sound and visual artist K.I.A. (Kirby Andersen), comes from a different place. The utopian precision is there, but so are the trade winds. They bring complicating voices from Africa and the Middle East.
The groove rules, but it's a constitutional monarchy. In That Groove, Larissa Gomes's vocal is instrumentalized, but its living traces remain, warming a plunging central riff that's always gathering and shedding different rhythmic counterpoints. In Segue, a chain of syncopated gasps and a soaring African chorus changes a brooding bass line into the root of something earthy, sunny and intimate.
Brando, a cover of Neil Young's Pocahontas, brings something else into the mix, the implication that every sequential element is, in some dimension, happening simultaneously. The opening blurts of sound, the rhythmic whispers, the expertly cramped Gomes vocal and the Indian chanting -- by the closing statement it's all one, contracting to an ideal moment and expanding without limit.
Middle Eastern traces appear in Dervish, in which one note from a short vocal fragment pierces the rubbery, viscous beat machinery like the utterance of a comic demigod, and Cyclamen, in which Gomes's vocal is shattered and reconstituted over a rollicking drum line.
The most symptomatic number is Funkriot, in which a hermetic dance track suddenly empties into a jumble of street sound, which is immediately absorbed into the revivified groove. It's like someone just threw open the dance club's fire-door, and let the fresh air in. (Web distribution at http://www.nu4ya.com.)