In 2008, White Hinterland, performing moniker for songstress Casey Dienel, released a charming piano pop record, cheekily titled Phylactery Factory. During a moment where Feist had officially gone Apple commercial-huge, Phylactery‘s sound appeared in the Magic 8-Ball tastemaker churn as “Yes, this undoubtedly has to be huge too.” Turns out, the album got lost. It was weirder than it let on. Lyrics about buying motor boats matched with a penchant (and adeptness) for evoking Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Plus it had the word “Phylactery” in its title.
Cut to later that year and the Luniculaire EP, sung entirely in French, is released. It is an effortless throwback to the sex-with-shades-on cool of the finest Serge Gainsbourg, crossed with the buzz saw jazz of some lost Morricone noir. Unabashed homage, meticulously faithful and quietly unlike anything else being released. Not to mention a much darker left turn than one may have seen coming. Lastly (and before we get to the record at hand) a tour-only EP saw light, and it featured covers of both Arthur Russell and Justin Timberlake.
And so here we are, at Kairos — arguably one of the finest releases 2010 is likely to see. A bold assertion so early on, but its instant universality is a rare find in an already saturated year. Everything mentioned about Casey Dienel’s discography prior lends very little (read: almost nothing) to Kairos’ thick, gorgeous heat wave of a record. The only element vaguely recognizable is the voice of a sultry chanteuse, though easily backed with more confidence and control than on any other White Hinterland record. Minimal snare hits, programmed tightly, cut their way through dense washes of melodic fogs, melted guitar skronk and vocal looping that can truly only be described as celestial. Quick points of reference might be Broadcast’s Tender Buttons, though heavier, and The xx’s debut, only much, much warmer.
If justice does in fact exist, we believe firmly that Jamie Lidell will one day cover the synthetic Motown stomp of “Begin Again” — wherein Dienel chants the title in an exclamation-marked refrain that casually summons a young Aretha Franklin. This is, in the end, soul music in every sense.
On an external level, the acid-washed blues and neon greens of Kairos’ cover art summates the sound almost perfectly. An anonymous figure, blown out with a flash bulb or maybe silhouetted by the sun behind her, stands under a sky that may also be the underside of a wave. An immaculate visual compliment to the songs therein which remain suspended in air, loosely anchored by the weight and imagery of something like “In the rain in Amsterdam, I caught you/Knelt down by the canals gazing at your own reflection.” A transportive offering in a record full of them — strangely relatable, hauntingly beautiful and in the truest sense, exquisite.