It may come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog, accustomed as you are to (ir)regular screeds exhorting the latest cassette of micro-electrical explorations or lovingly crafted CDr of dissonant noise gunk, that I do have a soft spot for a good tune. Melody is not the enemy, as Cornelius Cardew might have noted while sipping a glass of jasmine tea and dropping the needle on another Pet Shop Boys banger.
And so to this all-too-brief EP from Kib Elektra, the debut release from Bezirk Tapes, a label started by Tristan Bath (Missing Organs) and Daryl Worthington (Bleachers). I’m not gonna lie, it’s bloody brilliant, a sumptuous, crackling electro-pop gem that had me sold the from the second the rubbery baseline and cut-glass vocals of opener Falling Skies kicked in. This is skewed pop of the highest order, its five dayglo compositions given a disorientating, almost trippy slant by the loopy, skittering production. The usual warm synth chords are treated with queasy wobbles and layers of syncopated percussion give the impression of a suitcase of teacups being dragged across a wasteland. Above everything float the vocals, as affectless as Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, glacially calm as she surveys the intricately arranged layers of electronics, percussion and guitar. Din and Drone is particularly icy, drum machines snapping like scaffolding collapsing across corrugated iron as the vocals whisper then soar in multitracked unison – although Hairclips takes the prize for pure synth melancholia, its narrative of discovered infidelity channelling Sarah Nixey from those great Black Box recorder albums in its disappointed disdain, while the decaying synth chords do just enough to give me ‘all the feels’, as I believe young people say.
As a debut, Blemishes is definitely very assured. No wonder, then, that Kib Elektra is actually the alias of London-based multi-instrumentalist Abi Bailey, who, despite her relative youth, has already run up a CV to die for. Her expertise shows in the depth and attention to detail of this EP, which condenses an album’s worth of ideas and techniques into its quintete of concise tracks without it ever feeling overstuffed. Perhaps this is because Bailey seems to be an astute judge of her own material, knowing when to broaden things out, opening up the airless digital environment of the tape’s opening salvo to a broader palette. For example, the title track, cropping up pretty late in the running order, lays down a bright, jazzy bassline above which a mess of shimmering guitars mark out a mournful chorus. It’s the sound of those two bods from The XX – the two who aren’t Jamie – channelling Standards-era Tortoise for a cool slice of psych-sexual melodrama. Hermeto goes even better, its smooth polyrhythms as airily futuristic as an Oscar Niemeyer-designed pad with a cool view of the beach.
To say that Blemishes sounds relatively mainstream at times in no way denigrates its singular perspective and fantastic sound. It fits perfectly into the musical landscape in these post-FKA Twigs, post-Lemonade times. If I had my way, Kib Elektra would be on every playlist in the land, job done. That may not happen – which is a darn shame – but that doesn’t stop Blemishes being one of my favourite releases of 2016 so far. Great work.