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Album Of The Week

Cloudy With A Chance Of Glowsticks: Kate NV’s WOW 
Skye Butchard , March 2nd, 2023 11:20

The latest collection of oddities from electronic-pop artist Ekaterina Shilonosova explore a deep inner world, writes Skye Butchard

Photo Credit: Jenia-Filatova

Ekaterina Shilonosova has two baskets. In one, the artist also known as Kate NV places her songs. They have structure, stable grooves, and readable lyrics. They’re grounded by tangible influences, like 16-bit games, Sailor Moon and the Russian and Japanese pop music of the 70s. When she released 2020’s Room for the Moon, this was the basket she pulled from. The result was an album that was as playful as many of her early experiments. Yes, it was still weird. But it was also closer to what you might call a traditional pop album. 

In her other basket, she places her ‘tracks’. These are freeform jams, made for tinkering with exciting new sounds, or an instrument she doesn’t quite know how to play. They take surprising shifts. There’s no stable vocal line. Instead, she chops up bits of her voice to see what it sounds like when paired with a busted old clarinet from the Broken Orchestra sample pack, the crash of spoons hitting the floor, or whatever else she can use from her toy box. 

These are the components that form WOW, an endlessly joyful collection of oddities that capture the thrill of play through sound. Much of the music was made before Room for the Moon. Some of it is much older than that – so old that even Shilonosova is unsure of how it came together. 

At times, it feels like you can hear Shilonosova figuring out where to go in real time, like when she scrambles the pitch of her synth on opener ‘oni (they)’ after a few seconds of letting it ride. This adventurous spirit is what makes her so exciting within bands like ГШ and the more recent collaboration Decisive Pink, with Deradoorian. Here, in a solo capacity, the subtle focus on self-discovery creates an intimate and enveloping mood, even with the busy presentation. We’re there with her, discovering.

The opener is an apt taster. We begin with a gleeful chant that feels somewhere between meditation and nursery rhyme. New age marimbas pop in and out of focus. Then, all the instruments start spilling out at once: detuned synth scribbles, bouncy kick drums, and a slap-bass that’s so slappy that it’s almost a tom. The track unravels like each element has been tired out from too much running around at break time.

For all its structural experimentation, WOW has a warmth and comfort that makes it instantly appealing. Like the birds on the front cover, its musical parts are innocent, drawn in bright primary colours. The nostalgic glow of retro games is an obvious touchpoint. The garbled synth sounds of ‘confessions at the dinner table’ and ‘slon (elephant)’ bring to mind the cute chatter of Animal Crossing characters as they mooch around a cartoon utopia. Simple earworm melodies sing out over syncopated percussion and a menagerie of noises that aren’t afraid to get a little goofy. 

Kate NV has always used broken and imperfect sounds as a starting point, but the level of sensory detail draws attention to how much character there is in the imperfect. On the waltz ‘asleep’, a wonky snare drum keeps pace with the grace of two toddlers learning how to dance together. You can’t help but smile. It wouldn’t be as cute with a more polished drum sound plonking away in the background. 

‘d d d don’t’ instead presents a mischievous carnival of orchestral honks and crashes which ping off each other with the delight of a Rube Goldberg contraption. It’s one of the rare tracks with sustained lyrical refrain. “I don’t care about anything”, Kate NV vents in a sticky staccato, as drums, trumpets and cymbals get launched over her head. It’s apathy expressed within a sea of imagination. 

We get to meet those birds on ‘early birds’, a jaunty walk coloured by that midi slap-bass, slinky woodwind and her go-to orchestral stabs. For all the harmonic dissonance, there’s not a hint of anxiety on the track. Instead, it brings to mind the early wide-eyed discovery of childhood, where every object had a new texture, and every creature was a weird new thing. 

Conversely, ‘razmishlenie (thinking)’ pulls from jumbled thoughts. Sounds loop and stack on top of each other in an addictive and satisfying way. The chaos begins to form a pattern with its own kind of structure. Like real ruminating thoughts, the noise shifts into comfort when you’re in it for long enough.

The record leaves its cutest moment for last with ‘meow chat’, a track built on tiny chromatic melodies that tumble down like a fresh litter of kittens lazing over each other. There’s a wonderful sloppy guitar solo that’s bested by a squelchy trumpet solo, as if the cats have stopped tumbling and formed a band of their own. 

WOW embraces silly ideas. It uses silly as a gift. The album comes out at a dark and heavy time for Kate NV, and the world in general. Shilonosova and many of her friends have now left their home country due to the war in Ukraine. A few of the album’s sounds were even created in Kyiv, on a visit to her boyfriend at the time. She now doesn’t know when she’ll get back there again. Proceeds from the record will go to War Child, an organisation which supports children and young people affected by conflict. 

The contrast between the music and our current moment is not lost on Shilonosova. “WOW is light. Not careless, but carefree,” she said in a recent interview with Crack. “I went through lots of stages, thinking if it was right or wrong to release this kind of joyful music in these dark times”.

WOW presents itself as an act of escapism and self-reflection. While overthinking and apathy lurk in the background, pure fun and discovery overwhelm those feelings. In presenting a deep inner world of abstract sounds that become tangible characters, it reaches out, and offers to take the listener somewhere safe.