Sketches and comic book ideas are not unfamiliar to those who have encountered the work of Kid Koala already. Some Of My Best Friends Are DJs, for example, came with a little black and white comic that featured a couple of characters called Negatron and Grandmaphone. In fact, making and doing are fairly integral to the whole Kid Koala experience. Over the years there’s been travel chess sets, computer games, comics, and on 12 Bit Blues there was a cardboard gramophone to piece together. So it’s no surprise at all to find out that the genesis of Music To Draw To: Satellite began with a series of events at which Kid Koala would play records for an audience to draw to.
More often than not, these events explored more ambient territory than the material that might be found on the likes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and as these events progressed, Mr Koala started to introduce instrumentation into the mix to create live soundscapes. Whilst Kid Koala’s dexterity and inventiveness with sampling and turntablism is undoubtedly his calling card, what makes Music To Draw To such an intriguing record is that this is the first time in his career that he’s dispensed with sampling altogether in favour of creating mainly organic and meditative soundscapes created with what might be described as “more traditional” instrumentation such as guitars and synths.
He’s not alone on this journey. Not initially anyway. Not only is this the first time he’s worked without sampling, it’s also the first time he’s worked with a vocalist. If you’re going to pick someone to work with, it might as well be someone truly special, and in Emilíana Torrini Kid Koala has picked the perfect partner. The album tells the story of a couple who are separated by the decision of one of them to embark on a one way journey to Mars. The result is an album that finds Kid Koala drifting into ambient soundscapes, as on the opening track The Observable Universe, and post-rock territory. Torrini meanwhile has one of the most delicate and affecting voices on this planet, so the decision to launch her into space on a one way mission of discovery and heartbreak was only ever going to yield a clutch of wildly emotional songs. The description of the couple’s early days stargazing found on Fallaway is so intimate that it almost feels voyeuristic. There’s plenty of space for Torrini to whisper her vocals and land hushed but effective emotional punches.
If the lyrics are a little clichéd in places, it’s possible to cut Kid Koala a bit of slack, given it is the first time in the role of lyricist. Thankfully, Torrini’s delivery provides ample distraction, and behind her whisper-in-the-ear delivery, Kid Koala develops a finely crafted yet deceivingly complex backdrop for her to inhabit, dropping pitch-shifted motifs and barely there beats; it’s gorgeous. When things are kept stripped back there’s no doubting the power of these songs. Collapser is a basic idea musically and lyrically, but the ambiguity surrounding lines like “one day, you’ll know why I had to go” invite narrative to be imposed on the bones of the story. It is such little touches that make this such an intriguing album.
Sadly, it’s not always this refined and there are moments when the album feels a little like Kid Koala has thrown every idea, complete or otherwise, into the mix. So the ambient experimentation of Perihelion and Photons might drift along nicely, but don’t really go anywhere. In addition, they break up the narrative of the album, but perhaps a little light sketching is to be expected on an album made to embrace the creative process at every stage, from conception to fruition. These little niggles aside, Kid Koala and Torrini have created an album full of exquisite compositions that are easy to get lost in. It’s encouraging to find Kid Koala beginning to push the envelope and explore new territory, and these transmissions from the satellite heart are a fine starting point for future adventures.