This is Kid Koala‘s fifth album and I have to say is a serious change of pace to his previous output. Gone are the busy turntable experiments and instead with the aid of glacial vocals from the delightful Emiliana Torrini, we have a song suite of the kind of magnitude we are not fortunate enough to see very often.
The pair met after one of Emiliana’s gigs and after discussing the idea of working together, Emiliana mentioned an article that she had read relating to a woman that had signed up for a one-way trip to Mars, leaving her partner behind; in essence, this is the theme behind this extraordinary collection of songs. Kid Koala, or Eric San as his mum knows him, certainly knows his way around a studio. As well as producing, he plays a veritable array of instruments. Myriad synthesizers, bass, guitar, accordion, Wurlitzer and all sorts of things that I don’t even know what they are.The whole album moves at the most deliciously languid pace and evokes the feeling of weightlessness and a gradual release from the tyranny of gravity. Instrumentals are interspersed with Emiliana’s vocas and they form an arc of a story. On the second track “Adrift”, the line “Someone, somewhere feels this way too” goes some way to conveying the kind of melancholy that is at the heart of the album. Eric has chosen the most sensitive foil for his heartbroken poetry, but to portray an even greater sense of disconnection or distance, he even took to recording her voice using old magnetic cards and replaying them through something called the Universa magnetic disc recorder. The chatter and dust that is somehow injected into the vocals is such a great feat of studio mastery. There are touches like this and ways of expressing the expansiveness of space all the way through the album: the scratch of stylus on vinyl describes the static of a distant transmission on “The Observable Universe”; the pianet on “Photons” sounds like comets flying past a spaceship window; the gorgeous “Beneath The Heat” is replete with electronic squelches and sounds, filtered through Emiliana’s double-tracked and offset vocal, fragile and forlorn; the dirge-like Mellotron on “Novachord” somehow portrays slow motion, zero gravity, and the use of persephones and echoplexes on “The Hubble Constant”, along with recorded choral vocals, provides such dusty twinkling atmosphere that you could be up in the stratosphere somewhere.
The album is a wealth of ideas and experimentation and must have taken ages to assemble, but the effort is well worth it. There is one point where the protagonists are horizontal, side by side watching the stars and it is easy to imagine taking this album outside with a loved one, lying down on a warm grassy carpet and spending time discussing the possibilities that are way above us. Would I go? I am pretty sure I wouldn’t, but when Emiliana sings “one day you will know, why I had to go” on “Collapser”, you hear the ache in her voice and some sort of tension between the desire to stay and the compulsion to go. The album almost voices those paradoxical thoughts and gives us an insight into the strangest of possibilities.I don’t now if the pair will work together again, but in a way, I hope not. Matching the sheer majesty of this album would be difficult and I can’t recommend it highly enough.