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Katie Kim
Hour of the Ox Amanda Farah , September 9th, 2022 07:32

The Irish musician, singer-songwriter and composer takes time to reveal her temper on this warped and woozy record, finds Amanda Farah

Music that effectively creates an atmosphere doesn’t always clearly define the mood within it. Katie Kim’s Hour of the Ox is filled with wild vacillations in the densities of the songs, sometimes within the songs. Across this spectrum from minimalist rhythms to thick, discordant arrangements, the album forms a loose corral around vague moods: melancholy, fatigue, and a low-simmering aggression.

This not-quite-definable emotion stems from the string arrangements that play a central role on Hour of the Ox. They create a tension that runs through the record on an insidious wave. With the opening track, ‘Mona’, the strings usher in the album like a swarm of bees; later, the air raid sirens of ‘Into Which the Worm Falls’ fade into a folk baroque lollop on ‘Golden Circles’. It’s neither romantic nor is it the pivotal moment of Psycho – it’s just the sense that something isn’t quite right.

Kim has long had a mastery of nuance in her compositions. On Hour of the Ox, she works with tones that could easily obliterate every other sound, but those components are always held back so that every beat, every hollow-chiming piano, every plucked string is fully present, no matter the noise building around it. ‘Eraser’ captures this hairpin balance with a satisfying percussive thunk that propels the song forward at a steady pace against the suspense created by the strings.

And pacing is key throughout the songs on Hour of the Ox. Kim takes time to build songs to proper crescendos that fall back to earth; no sudden shift in intensity is ever a plateau. On ‘Gentle Bird’, she stretches her template over the course of seven minutes: a low, ebbing electronic buzz hums under oscillating strings, and layers of vocals are triggered in tripwire succession, crowding each other for space and allowing only certain words to escape. Kim builds her songs along graceful arcs, and there is a sound logic and a sense of completion to every song, whether there is finality to it or it fades into the next track.

It’s on album closer ‘Really Far’ that Hour of the Ox’s mood finally solidifies. When the backing vocals nearly drown out Kim’s lyrics with a cry of anguish, it’s finally clear that the reactions have always been more about pain and isolation than anger. It’s against a background of synth rhythms that some of her most human admissions flow out – a sad, beautiful final note that will send you back to the beginning, searching for a vulnerability that was hiding in plain sight the whole time.