Kate NV

Room For The Moon

Saxes and synths come to the fore on the theatrically inclined new album from Kate NV, finds Richard Foster

Kate NV’s new album, Room For The Moon is the moment we see both “Kates” in full view; the architect and the dreamer. Despite some appearances, the idea that Kate NV is some winsome elf tripping on a cloud of vintage synths is a partly illusory one. There is always a glint of steel in her work; a process that is often driven by discipline, desire and an almost inhuman energy and guts. This process, and her sometimes compulsive need to document her every move, always adds a fiery spark to her music. You feel her music is music driven from a desire to give a fully synesthetic, painterly display of her inner world in a public setting.

This tough work ethic is recognisable in the many familiar refrains in this album. There are moments – maybe in the vocals or synth patterns – that remind you of her previous two LPs, для FOR and Binasu, or her live shows this last 18 months or so. She’s not one for waste, to discard an idea if it hasn’t delivered full satisfaction.

On to this album, then. ‘Not Not Not’ is a true scene setter for the rest of Room for The Moon. On the one hand it is stately and well-planned; careful to introduce us to the sonic elements we will use to negotiate the rest of the music. It also manages to sound as fresh as cut grass. This goes for much of the music on the album; Shilonosova’s trademark looped synth patterns create a mesmerizing dreamscape in which elements are then introduced to play a part. There’s the flute and French vox on ‘Ça Commence Par’, which really does give Lizzy Mercier-Descloux’s breathless spirit a run for its money. Or the reedy, chiming, future-nostalgia synth sounds on ‘Marafon’ and ‘Tea’. Each feels like a beautiful new guest announced at a glitzy ball. Probably more than any of her other albums – and given she has some old friends and creative partners such as Jenya Gorbunov guesting – this is the one that feels most communal, the most like a theatrical production.

The sax, such a crucial part of the band she co-leads with Gorbunov, Moscow’s гш / Glintshake, is noticeable from the off, playing a beautifully mellifluous role in ‘Not Not Not’ and other cuts. This instrument – something of a signature one for many alternative contemporary Russian acts – really suits Shilonosova’s work; it often acts as a counterpoint, or witness, to her melodies.

What is a truly brilliant thing on this album is that the sax becomes a character in its own right; given a soul by the musical arrangements. Two brilliant practitioners, St Petersburg’s Vladimir Luchanskiy (who played on гш / Glintshake’s incredible 2018 LP, Польза (‘Benefit’), and London’s Quinn Oulton become – by way of their playing – a seducer on ‘Not Not Not’ a shady character on the brilliantly restless ‘Plans’ or the sounds of a busy street on the instrumental ‘Du Na?’, a track which conjures up an afterglow of Mondriaan’s pictures of New York. Somehow the instrument becomes the “male” chaperone to NV’s delicate, percussive synth patterns.

In common with her other work, you, the listener, can get lost in Kate NV’s dreamscape: a carefully created, minutely observed world where cares are put aside for a little while. Tiny touches (is someone slurping coffee at the beginning of ‘Du Na’?) just reinforce the feeling we are sharing someone else’s privacy. Tracks like ‘Lu Na’ and, unsurprisingly, ‘If Anyone’s Sleepy’ are designed to leave the listener in a horizontal state (though the latter’s disconcerting synth fade out acts like a bedside alarm).

A key track is the the sublime single, ‘Sayonara’, in which Shilonosova creates a huge stage courtesy of a spiky, quizzical guitar line (another trademark) and some slippery synths to make a seductive, low-key pop song that, due to the background business and winsome chord progressions, has something of Cluster about it. “Yes, yes, yes / No, no, no”, sings la Shilonosova. What does she want? Does she want to tell us anything at all? This is a true show tune full of tension and unsolved desires, the sort of thing you’d empathise to in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Last track ‘Telefon’ is a similarly winning number, one where Shilonosova sets out a very familiar rallying call for her gang, courtesy of an irrepressible melody line and some beautiful synth-sax combinations.

A supremely visual person, Kate NV has probably made her most confident and colourful statement with Room For The Moon. It’s an all-encompassing record, packed with plenty of reassuring elements to those already familiar with her work, but with acres of room for the listener to disappear into. As such it’s a tonic – especially in these cooped up, locked down times.

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