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The Tropisms of Spring Will Salmon , October 14th, 2020 08:08

The Tropisms Of Spring finds Kuba Ziołek warped and submerged in the heady atmosphere of Krzysztof Ostrowski's synthesised soundscapes. Will Salmon dives in to scoop up the pearls

With his one-man band Stara Rzeka seemingly now defunct, tQ fave Jakub/Kuba Ziołek is busily reinventing himself. The first of a raft of planned new projects, Clinamen is an enigmatic and fragmentary collaboration with underground producer Krzysztof Ostrowski.

It's not the first time the singer has worked with other artists. 2017's Zimpel/Ziołek mixed folk and jazz to striking effect. But where that album was crafted around repetition, The Tropisms Of Spring is more elusive and free-flowing. Ostrowski’s modular synth soundscapes create a hermetically sealed world, with Kuba the only human inhabitant.

The duo make their intentions clear right from the start. There's percussion on the opening track 'Agora', but it's broken down to its most basic components, with the ‘beats’ floating around Ziołek like hunks of driftwood. It's beautifully serene until, a couple of minutes in, ominous strings rise up and smash down like breakers crashing on the shore.

It's followed by 'Dentro', which shimmers and stutters before giving way to a particularly murky vocal. That's a repeated tactic on this record, with Ziołek frequently warped, manipulated and often buried in the mix. 'Debaixo', in particular, uses only ghost traces of his vocals, while Jędrzej Łagodziński's dissonant saxophone conjures an atmosphere of dreadful unease.

But even when you can't make out what he's singing, the resonance of Kuba's voice is always clear. ‘Acima’ feels fraught with both tension and optimistic anticipation, built around a sparse (and truly knackered sounding) piano part and rising strings, while ‘Fora’ foregrounds the singer against a beatless backdrop of glittering synths. It's as lovely as it is melancholy.

There's a strong pop element to Tropisms too. 'Aí' and 'Perto' are an unlikely mix of avant electronica and the 80s New Romantics; Ultravox by way of Autechre, if you like. 'Devagar' glitches and skitters, before kicking back in its final moments as joyful chords come in, unexpected shafts of light in a dusty room. In moments like this, the album recalls the digital overload of Sufjan Stephen's panicked masterpiece, The Age of Adz. Pop that’s adventurous and deeply personal.

The Tropisms Of Spring is an unusual record, even for Kuba Ziołek. It pulls in many different directions at once, changes mood by the minute and feels both intimate and grandiose. But it’s also shot through with moments of uncanny beauty and wonder. Long time Stara Rzeka fans may wonder where all the psych freakouts went, but they’ll happily follow Ziołek and Ostrowski on their strange journey into the unknown. You should too.