On their latest offering, producer Kayla Waldorf serves up multiple goods as she finds her inner garden, and the music that comes forth from this lush environment is truly something to behold.
Audial universes are a fascinating thing, and when you look back and explore a body of work that contains so much variety and passionate exploration, its easy to fall in love with the layers, the styles and the flows. For some producers, casting the net out far and wide remains a key consideration in pushing their sound onwards and upwards, acting not as a deterrent in the face of stretching themselves too thing but as a means of soaking up and pushing out an extraordinary range of styles, which in turn allows for some mesmerising results to come to the fore. A method which became very popular in the 90s, the concept of multiple aliases allows for producers to collect varying stems of interest together under one roof, a collection of differing yet oh-so-similar audial feelings that illustrate a mind mapping itself out towards the important nodes and flourishing inbetween spaces. As an approach it serves dividends, an inspired meander through all things sonic and atmospherical, taking the listener by the hand and drawing them close to the centre of proceedings, a core of dynamism that flairs up in numerous directions, and it remains up to our imaginations to follow onwards into the next phase. There's a certain kind of energy to be experienced within these kinds of discographies, an ethereal essence that allows the time for wonderings to occur but along almost razor sharp paths, defined by a broadness yet immaculate precision that makes the overall experience one to really behold and get behind. As we jump from name to name, we feel compelled to remain on board, as each sequence of releases garners more of our attention, a special and deeply compelling dive through the membranes of genres and into a very special space, their space to be exact. To be within is to be at one with the concepts, the notions of momentum and the incisiveness of musical thought, to delve deeply than the strata and come out the other side feeling like things have changed for the better. We float from one sub-narrative to the next, comfortable in the knowledge that each sub-narrative is as strong as the last, feeding into one another constantly as we submerge ourselves in an intensely deep and inter-connected world, awaiting the next gift with baited breath.
Someone who has been occupying these spaces for sometime now is Seattle based musician Kayla Waldorf, who's work spreads itself out over multiple plains of existence and in turn gives over to us a complete and ever growing spread of wondrous sounds. Since their debut in 2016, Waldorf has explored a number of differing sounds that have evolved organically together, with the majority of these explorations coming under the Aos name. Waldorf always seems on the move when it comes to exploring the parameters of sound, with a flexible approach to stylistic impressions meaning that the music always feels like it has space to grow within, and as a result there is an indefinite feeling of growth between releases. Each record comes to us as a highly defined package, one that sets out the framework right from the off then feels incredibly happy to push us in all manner of differing directions, never faltering in its quest to push us to the edges of our seats. Their control over the sonics and atmospheres is quite something, with broad brushstrokes paired with the tiniest paint textures that help to make our perspective of the music move from large to small scale impeccably. There's a great level of harmony between the melodics and the rhythm within Waldorf's work, with plenty of emphasis placed upon both sequences as we see an unravelling that is simply beautiful, a cascading notion that always switches gears in order to keep the mind engaged and the soul on fire. In our eyes, Waldorf crafts Dance/Electronic Music of the highest order, their sound one that is constantly on the fringe of possibility, a continual seeking of new means of expressionism as we boldly step onwards and upwards within their deftly balanced audial universe. There is plenty of excellence to select from the Aos name, starting off with the deeply involving, and ever so tender house that resides within '90 East', which landed in 2016; the power and the glory that is the 'Rate of Expansion', which arrived in 2018; the cosmic leaning, progressive churning excellence of 'Violent Light', which also landed in 2018; and finally, the gentle embrace and the sombre yet affectionate messages found within 'So Sweet', which also arrived in 2018. The records they released under the Sage name, a duo project shared with Alex Markey are simply incredible, which include '1' and '2: The Dream', both of which landed in 2021, and both records give you those early 90s feels, in some ways because of the musical content but more so in the unbridled expansionism, the cascade of ideas that are synthesised so beautifully, and the diversity in genres that sees everything covered from pulsating Junglism through to softly undulating Ambient Dub Techno (with a melodic twist). In all, Waldorf has crafted a highly convincing musical world, one which transpires as much as it dissipates, a constant morph between solid states and liquid gold, and we for one have had so much fun getting to know their past works. There's a fine line that persists in every record, a membrane that sees easily broken down as it seamlessly fits into the next line of inquiry, electronic music at its very finest in terms of turning itself in before blossoming outwards into something captivating. As a journey, there aren't much better, and we for one recommend keeping a very close eye on whatever Waldorf might conjure up next.
And you don't really have to wait too long for this to happen, as we arrive at their latest offering 'The Secret Garden is in Your Mind', which arrives via the secondnature under a new alias, Selene. During the past couple of years, which have seen people isolated from loved ones, friends and in many ways parts of themselves, Waldorf looked inwards as a means of creating a new centre of creativity, and thus Selene has come forth to bring us yet another chapter in this mighty tome. Much like with their earlier works, 'The Secret Garden' hints at something greater, its total parts drawing focus from the wider discography and injecting it down through channels that remain interchangable as we move from track to track, with a number of styles simmering away underneath that move with precision. The majority of the record is a high tempo affair, but there's plenty of slower feeling moments within that give the illusion of travelling rapidly, and when the transitions hit they are such a delight, with the final track moving the listener into a lucid state that rounds off an epic journey through rhythm, melody and above all else, inner resolution. So with that in mind, lets take a dive through the undergrowth, and see what this secret garden is all about....
First up comes 'Blabberbaby', and this one begins with some rhythmic fluctuations to get things going. The chiming cymbals move along with intent, as the top layers become awash with delicate melodic blemishes, and as these two elements start to overlap the bass line comes to provide a dense presence through the middle. The other features really latch on to this constantly morphing tone, as we see manipulations in frequency occur constantly, the scale and presence of the track merging with the forces that persist around us. The track discretely descends into a breakdown, the bass line left to its own devices but before long it is joined by all manner of objects and feels, with the build up here living long in the memory, as powerful synth lines swirl around the pulse, crafting an atmosphere that feels alive, vibrant and present. The track then arrives at its climax, and here we see the most overt rhythmic pattern yet begin to emerge, and we arrive in a happy place. A glorious opener. 'Colour of Sound' comes next, and this one begins with some light rhythmic elements to get things going. The lone percussive sequence is quickly joined by some deep melodic hues and additional kicks which add flavour and feel underneath, and as time passes by the track quickly grows in strength, with wondrous swirls and polyrhythms taking charge. The overall density has developed significantly since its opening salvo, and as the breakdown occurs we are left with the now lead synth motif, vocal samples and smooth textures, and out of the mist comes the kicks, and lift off has been achieved. This subtle manipulation of rhythmic feel is near to genius, and it encourages all these little melodic sequences to throw themselves in for the ride, with the snare landing itself in the mix to really get the blood pumping. The hats come not long after to continue to fuel our onward momentum, as we slide through a track with power and purpose on its mind, a high octane tune for these high octane times, a release of energy that is very meaningful indeed.
'Theory of Mind' comes next, and this one flickers into life with a wide range of dynamic sequences in tow. The kicks hit hard through the middle, spacious in their placement which provides room for the melodic layers to wrap themselves around the pulse, and before long we are joined by the bass and vocal samples. The initial outlay is very impressive, with tonality high on the agenda it seems with plenty of design intentions laid bare for all to see, and as time passes by further features slide into view that make the feeling that ever bit more impressive. The drums move away for a moment, but this is quickly eaten away as the percussion comes back swinging - hard. The groove is a skippy d'n'b kind of feel, perhaps even electro leaning, but no matter that it grooves beautifully, its swinging nature complimenting the arpeggios up top expertly. Another track break down provides plenty of space for further textural manipulation, our hearts dancing to the intricacies that come to the surface, with Waldorf waiting the longest time possible before the drop, and when it happens you completely let go, its that good. The rhythm carries itself onwards for a good while longer, with the perfect symmetry between melodics and percussion keeping our mind alive, and it turning for days to come yet. To wrap things up, we have 'Selene's Secret Garden', and here the introduction is all about emotive swells. The melodics sweep in from points located far on the horizon line, their shape and form flickering into life with all the meaning in the world, drifting from left to right as the sound does its best to envelop the listener in feels. The vocals do much to add guidance to our journey through the mists, its placement like the synths always on the move, with an additional key line place within the dynamism which gives the whole track an additional boost of substance. After four tracks of bountiful energy, this final cut provides us with a different kind of fuel, a deeply inner looking kind of notion that has us swirling around our own heads, looking for our own mental headspace where we can feel at one with our moods. An album that will live on for the rest of this year, and beyond, for sure.
We started the review talking about audial universes and how producers approach the craft of building these spaces, and how in some cases the space being built is informed by a wide reaching stylistic approach that helps to make that universe all the more believable and enjoyable to explore. Kayla Waldorf is certainly within that realm of producers who have approached the concept of world building with a deft hand and a creative vision, with their work seemingly jumping from all manner of contexts and always coming out the other side feeling like everything was planned to a T and that the relationships between their various projects were considered to the max. Their latest project Serene sees the productions on point, the transitions flawless, and the progressions within always handled expertly, as we are given a mini-masterclass in binding melodics within deeply compelling rhythmic structures. The first three tracks symbolise the true power of keeping things fast and intricate, whilst the final moment is a breezy, ambient leaning affair that still manages to keep many of the energetic elements that made the first three cuts so entertaining. Its an album that keeps on giving, so why not take a journey down to the secret garden - you just might find your own along the way....
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