Release Date: Mar 9, 2010
Record label: Dead Oceans
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
The second full-length offering from White Hinterland (vocalist Casey Dienel and electro-wizard Shawn Creeden) positively oozes the kind of murky, open-world atmospherics of classic, early-'90s 4AD artists like the Cocteau Twins, Lisa Germano, and Dead Can Dance. Built primarily around Dienel’s omnipresent voice, a willowy, slightly off-key blend of Björk, Suzanne Vega, and the Delgados’ Emma Pollock, Kairos is simultaneously peaceful and unnerving; reveling in a wet summer night of choked, downtempo beats and looped “oohs” and “ahhhs. ” From the ethereal opening notes of "Icarus" to the ethereal closing notes of "Magnolias," Dienel and Creeden have crafted a post-midnight breeze of a record that rarely steps outside of its dreamland template -- it’s a tactic that would derail other acts not up to the task of seeing the whole thing through.
I admit that using other band names to map the sound of an artist is usually a lazy form of shorthand that should be avoided more often than it is, but listening to Kairos by White Hinterland, it’s hard to keep certain names from attaching themselves to the music. Yet unlike the usual nods towards sounds and styles from another era, the artists springing to mind here are all linked by their contemporary taste-making existences. So amongst others there is the carefully enunciated instrumentation, breathy intimacy and spatial manipulation of The XX, the looping organic electronics of Animal Collective, the poised and polished R&B vibrato of Dirty Projectors, the brooding, echoing pound and scrape of Burial and the asomatous ebb and flow of Beach House.
The jazzy singer-songwriterisms of [b]Casey Dienel[/b]’s debut, [b]‘Wind-Up Canary’[/b], gave no preparation for the baroque worlds conjured by her reinvention as [b]White Hinterland[/b] on 2008’s [b]‘Phylactery Factory’[/b]. Equally, those who delighted in unravelling that knotty, brilliant album will emerge dazed and blinking into the wide spaces and sweet melodies of [b]‘Kairos’[/b]. It finds inspiration in R&B, krautrock, ambient and trip-hop.
There comes a time when an artist's stance deviates from the norm they’ve formerly established to avoid replication. Casey Dienel, a young and prodigious songwriter with a deft grasp of distinct musical sensibilities, almost makes it look easy. In such a short time, Dienel has made a name for herself as a solo artist, studying jazz with premeditated, crafted musicians who live and breathe their profession.
Casey Dienel doesn't stay put for very long. The singer's last full length with White Hinterland, 2008's Phylactery Factory, swayed to brushed drums, dainty piano, and perky vocals. Later that year, she created prickly, sophisticated art-lounge on the Luniculaire EP, a collection of originals and covers all sung in French. Like her earlier work, there was still a strong theatrical element in those edgier songs, but it didn't exactly point the way toward the hazy pop pulse of Kairos.
“I am afraid of so many things / but I don’t fear the future”, Casey Dienel sings on the second track of White Hinterland’s second LP, Kairos. The music throughout the album embraces that notion of looking forward without reservations. The future, for Dienel and the group, means exploring and appropriating more styles of music in more ways. In the process, Dienel is moving further away from the one album she released under her own name, 2006’s Wind-Up Canary, a more stripped-down album of eccentric piano-pop.
To their credit, Casey Dienel and Shawn Creden, a.k.a. White Hinterland, are a tough band to pin down. In just four years and a bare handful of releases, the duo has already tinkered with many different styles, from the smooth jazz indie-pop of Phylactery Factory to the dissonant cover medley of Luniculaire. True to form, their latest offering, Kairos finds them venturing into new territory, relying on electronic instrumentation to a greater degree than ever before, trading the French bossa nova vibe present in their early work for a sound that leans closer to contemporary R&B.