White Hinterland


In spite of the many words that have been bandied about to try and describe this new hazy, dreamy, diaphanous, gauzy, hypnagogic cloud that’s engulfed music in recent months, it seems that the Ancient Greeks coined the perfect encapsulation of all that woozes over 2000 years ago. Kairos means the "supreme moment", a qualitative state of time suspended rather than a chronological march, one that exists in an ether. It’s a fitting title for White Hinterland’s second album, being the first that sees her embrace spontaneous artistic whim and creation rather than clinging to time-aged ideas of yore.

Initially performing under her given name, the classically trained Casey Dienel dipped her toes into the waters of hiccupy, Regina Spektor-esque ersatz "jazz" often found at home on the soundtracks to nauseating romantic comedies. She drew comparisons with Joanna Newsom over their shared love of archaisms, but Dienel lacked the originality required to pull them off without coming across as contrived. Her next album, her first under the White Hinterland moniker, may have been a break with nomenclature and an attempt at catharsis, but it covered much the same territory as its predecessor. The EP that followed, however, sung in dodgy French and comprising three covers, showed a different side – gone were the affected vocal leaps (or at least, they were smoothed over by the language) and in its place was a willingness to experiment with her rigorous conservatory schooling. The results recalled Camille’s erratic hit and miss brilliance. Its title, ‘Luniculaire’, a portmanteau of "lunaire" and "funiculaire", suggested a train journey to the moon – a voyage realised by Kairos, a sonic world away from anything she’s recorded previously, and much the better for its distance.

Much of Kairos takes place around a dark lake in the wooded grounds of Dienel’s mind’s eye, beneath a glowing dewy orb. There’s the sense of a search for home ("I want a house of stone set out in the woods," she sings on ‘Begin Again’), an isolated place close to nature, and the attempts to send messages to a reluctant "you" to bring them there too. The wash of synths, her languid but strong tones and the intangible hour "in between waking and sleeping" of the bass-heavy ‘Moon Jam’ make for a gorgeous collection of aubades, full of the uncertainties that late night emotional lucubrations bring.

Subject matter and colour spectrum taken into consideration, this record could easily have floated off into the ether of shapeless lo-fi amoebas without the appropriate anchoring. Its use of percussion is but one of its many strengths – member/collaborator Shawn Creeden’s electronic Midas touch adds a grounding, brittle dimension to proceedings, sometimes looping patters around dubby thumps, at others jabbing and spindling with the precision of an industrial weaving machine. Much like Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca and The xx’s debut, the glitchy skeletal structures mixed with Dienel’s melismatic coo frequently touch on the edges of minimal R&B – ‘Begin Again’ and ‘Cataract’ are as gorgeous as anything Aaliyah released, the latter indulging in slow jam funk guitar noodling and the sweetly warbled promise that "you can still call on me". Her voice has undergone a total transformation, freeing itself from the overly jazzy intonations it was trapped within on past records to soar unabashedly. While she hasn’t quite reached the trapeze-leaping, pogoing yelps of Amber and Angel, it’s a pleasure to hear her rejoicing in the freedom of her vocal reincarnation. Kairos is a true curio, seeing its creator abandon the convention she knew to breathe new life into a millennia old concept.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today