Review : White Hinterland - Kairos
PitchforkCasey 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.
From the opening seconds of the album-- a lazy tide pool of swirling synths and echoing vocals-- White Hinterland strike a different pose. The graceful piano, chamber-pop arrangements, and storybook lyrics of the past were crisp snapshots; Kairos is a collection of over-exposed and landscapes-- bold, blurred, and wide open.
Dienel and bandmate Shawn Creeden removed the piano from the equation on Kairos, and the result is a textbook case of addition by subtraction. Dienel's voice, still delicate and fluttering, sounds more powerful and expressive, free and untethered from the jazzy arrangements of the past. With antiquated references stricken from the lyric sheet, Dienel's words come off as more personal and direct. She swoons on "Cataract" and "Magnolias", two of the gorgeous tracks in which her sweet tone and confident phrasing, along with unfurled guitar melodies, recall Bitte Orca....full text
BbcKairos is an Ancient Greek word that describes a particularly fortuitous moment in time. It’s also the title of Casey Dienel’s third release as White Hinterland, the album where this Massachusetts-born, classically-educated singer-songwriter comes into her own.
Her 2008 album Phylactery Factory – following 2006’s debut Wind Up Canary, recorded under her own name while she was studying at New England Conservatory Of Music, and a rather overly-precious curio she’d now rather forget – was a painstakingly-etched, winningly offbeat set that suggested Dienel was, like Joanna Newsom, another Freaked Folkie in love with old-time orchestration and tangled songcraft. She thwarted such attempts at pigeonholing with the same year’s Luniculaire, an EP sung entirely in French, and including a delirious cover of J’ai 26 Ans, originally recorded by Brigitte Fontaine for Comme a la Radio, her 1971 collaboration with avant-jazz weirdniks the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Dienel throws a further curveball with Kairos, doing away with piano, guitar, strings – the acoustic instruments that previously made up her palette – in favour of synths and sequencers, a brave move that entirely pays off. Scoring her songs with electronica, Dienel is making no vain play for the dancefloor – rather, Kairos offers hypnotic digital chamber-pop, the minimal orchestration brilliantly foregrounding her playful and joyous vocals. This contrast, between the machine music and her most-human vocals, is particularly delicious on the sublime Begin Again, as sub-bass smudges and percussive clicks and whirrs play off Dienel’s swooning, lilting voice, pirouetting through effortless pop hooks. On Amsterdam, industrial clanking builds a mood of grey melancholy, Dienel’s multi-tracked yowls and yelps puncturing the gloom. No Logic, meanwhile, strings together loops of percussion and scratchy guitar to cook up a loping trance-pop somewhere between Eno and Byrne’s Bush of Ghosts and Konono #1’s Congotronics....full text
DustedmagazineThere was something soothingly familiar about White Hinterland’s debut album Phylactery Factory. Restrained, cocktail-lounge musical backdrops and Casey Dienel’s expressive vocals resulted in an album with echoes of the intimate. Familiarity has its downside, however, and Phylactery Factory never quite settled on a sound of its own. Maybe it took approaching the songs of others to clarify Dienel’s own songwriting: Luniculaire, a 2009 EP of transfigured Gallic pop, was unsettling in ways you don’t expect a standards album to be. Based on the sensibility of Phylactery Factory, one might have expected Luniculaire to be a model of Francophile restraint. Instead, the songs were jagged and fragmented, violently reimagining their sources as starting points for explorations of rhythm and contrasting textures.
Kairos takes a slight step back from there in the direction of accessibility. Some of the songs here — “No Logic” in particular — have more than a passing familiarity to the handcrafted rhythms made by Tune-Yards; others, such as “Cataract,” could serve as evidence of a trip-hop revivalism on the rise. While the group’s first album called to mind Madeleine Peyroux and Petra Haden’s collaboration with Bill Frisell, Kairos is more likely to earn Dienel comparisons to Tune-Yard’s Merrill Garbus and the Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian, both vocally and in the larger sense of musicians welding a fondness for soul balladry with cut-and-paste sensibility.
Dienel has a fine ability to croon, and it’s not surprising that lost love is at the heart of many of these songs. “Even though I may be out of the picture, baby / You can rely on me,” she sings on “Cataract,” before adding the caveat “from time to time.” Elsewhere, her lyrics evoke violence through unusual imagery, as on “Magnolias”: “Bleeding into the lake is a blood-red paper corsage / Once you said that you hated all flowers but for magnolias.” Here, she and bandmate Shawn Creeden get it right: the repetitive structure here accentuates the strangeness of the lyrics, turning the assemblage of details into something brooding and surreal....full text
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