Fascinating new electronic document...
'The Curved Line'

Kelpe's Kelvin McKeown is now putting out material at a noticeably faster clip than he used to.

While the polymath hasn't reached Aphex Twin-esque levels of spontaneity, and we shouldn't expect, say, a massive unloading of unreleased material to rival Richard D. James's frankly-ridiculous Soundcloud drop at the start of the year, he's doing a lot to make up for the extended period of silence between 'Cambio Wechsel' and 2013's 'Fourth: the Golden Eagle', the latter of which was his debut for DRUT Records, and introduced plenty of new elements to his sound, which was admittedly dense enough to begin with. He's been stacking ideas on top of each other since 'Sea Inside Body' was released more than a decade ago, but the Londoner isn't fond of excess, and it shows in his work. What he does have a soft spot for is attention to detail (like that wasn't already apparent from the eye-catching front cover of 'The Curved Line), and his fifth album is a lush and energetic work that could well be his best offering to date.

The 10 songs featured here are impressively focused. 'Doubles of Everything' features stuttering, looped piano over a cavernous hip-hop beat, coasting along for two minutes until the gradual shift of the piano melody leads into a well-executed drop, McKeown cranking up the track's low-end and switching gears with aplomb. 'Chirpsichord' shifts the attention to intricate programmed drums and dreamy arpeggios, kept grounded by a repeated 'uh!' vocal sample that one half expects to give way to a guest feature. Such a thing would make sense, of course: McKeown hasn't been shy about incorporating hip-hop and R&B influences in his work, but here, it manifests itself in ways far less overt than that. 'Red Caps of Waves' is a nervy, agitated track that clearly wears such influences, but instead filters them through buzzing synths and hazy audio samples, a sense of unease hanging over it all the while.

Elsewhere, we find that McKeown has allowed his music to become more beat-driven as the years have passed; sudden stylistic shifts were never his style, but solid four-to-the-floor rhythms have largely remained absent from his work until now. Here, he uses them as blueprints for more expressive rhythms; the relentless pulse of 'Calumet' is backed up by improvised additional percussion, while 'Sick Lickle Thing' possesses a samba feel, backed up by live drumming from Chris Walmsley, who picks up on the dotted eighth-note foundation laid by the programmed drums and just goes off - the last minute or so of the six-minute track is particularly impressive. He's also behind the kit for penultimate track 'Canjealous', once again using the electronic percussion as building blocks for an expressive, urgent performance in line with the track's melodic fervour.

Even when McKeown's on his own, plenty of rhythmic invention is brought to the table. 'Valerian', contrary to its title, won't put you to sleep; it ramps up the BPM count for a synth-driven odyssey that's powered by a surprisingly unfussy melody that seems like it's there to hold the hyperactive percussion together, and not vice-versa. It certainly works, showcasing the more cinematic elements of McKeown's sound, elements which then become the focus of its monumental, seven-minute centrepiece 'Drums For Special Effects', which embraces melody over atmosphere, setting the scene with a gradual crescendo that balloons out into the album's peak, with a synth lead so big it could probably be seen from space. It's the highlight of a record that keeps his career trajectory on an upward curve, but thankfully it doesn't dwarf the rest of the album - 'The Curved Line' is a robust collection that finds McKeown going from strength to strength.

7/10

Words: Gareth O'Malley

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