California-based composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith had a banner year in 2016. Both her vibrant, playful solo album Ears and her dream collaboration with new age legend Suzanne Ciani, released as part of RVNG Intl.'s FRKWYS series, received a great deal of acclaim, establishing her as a notable creator of lush, imaginative electronic music. The 2017 full-length The Kid builds on Ears' seamless fusion of synthetic and organic sounds, combining the fluid tones of her preferred instrument, the Buchla Music Easel, with other synthesizers, such as the rare EMS Synthi 100, in addition to orchestral arrangements performed by the Berlin-based contemporary ensemble Stargaze. Right from the album's beginning (the swirling, rainforest-like "I Am a Thought"), The Kid is sonically richer and busier than Smith's previous work. When her vocals appear on "An Intention," they're less masked by effects than before, and her sentiments are much clearer: "I feel everything at the same time." Before the album's arrival, Smith released a cover of Sade's "By Your Side," and her singing is more assured and clearly more inspired by R&B and pop this time around. Following track "A Kid" is more upbeat, and also weirder, with melting Far East-inspired melodies, popping bubble-like textures, and lightly thumping techno beats. When her vocals come in, "A Kid" seems to resemble a highlight from some sort of futuristic deep-space musical, with rumbling bass and astral whooshing noises contributing to the hallucinatory sound wash. "In the World, But Not of the World" is another winning excursion into space age pop, with wondrous vocals surrounded by jittery beats and a virtual robot symphony. "To Follow and Lead" is the album's future-pop centerpiece, punctuating a bubbly, friendly beat with a complex yet catchy horn-driven wordless chorus. The album's final quarter showcases Stargaze's orchestral arrangements more heavily than the album's preceding songs, and their prismatic patterns blend intriguingly with Smith's splashy electronics. While she cuts up her vocals on "I Will Make Room for You" and seems to sing non-lyrical syllables throughout, there are also more direct expressions, such as when she sings "I will wake up one day and you won't be there" on the calm, wistful "To Feel Your Best." The entire album is a stunning work of highly advanced kaleidoscopic new age pop, and is easily Smith's best and most accessible release to date.
© Paul Simpson /TiVo