A solid debut, but offering little to justify its makers’ ‘innovative’ reputation.
Alex Denney 2012
Recently, a glut of self-consciously arty, female-fronted synth-pop projects have been unleashed on the listening public, from web pixie Grimes to fame monster Gaga, Fever Ray to Florence + the Machine.
The vogue finds something of an apotheosis in iamamiwhoami, aka Swedish songwriter Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund. They first sparked attention via a cryptic series of anonymous video shorts sent to music bloggers. The bizarrely symbolic clips sparked debate as to their makers, with Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and even Trent Reznor touted as possibilities. Locks of hair were sent to journalists, awards for "innovation" were won – and therein lays a hitch.
Namely, that iamamiwhoami, taken as a complete package, represents a counter-productive dovetailing of clever-clever marketing and art-school pretension. If your aim is to create mystery around your act, and you’re winner of "Best Tease of the Past 12 Months" on 6 Music, why brag about the fact on your Wikipedia page? An enigma doesn’t become an enigma by telling people repeatedly, at length, that it is, in fact, an enigma.
But we digress – kin, iamamiwhoami’s debut, must be judged on its merits as an album, and it’s a fine if not especially memorable set of off-beam synth-pop tunes. Fellow compatriots spring to mind on tracks like idle talk (The Knife) and goods (Niki & The Dove), while play’s laidback swing recalls the nouveau-RnB of Grimes. Steady tempos and mid-range tones create a pleasant wash of sound, but the airy good taste ultimately becomes a bit of a drag.
As yet another string to Lee’s bow, the album comes with a DVD intended as an integral part of the listening experience. It’s an ambitious concept that yields some arresting images involving yeti-like creatures, but essentially consists of Lee parading around in her bra and pants. So no great shakes there, unfortunately.
It feels sneaky bringing up the fact that Lee’s former musical guise, under her real name, has been described as “KT Tunstall-lite”. But the point is instructive, because while kin is solidly crafted throughout, there’s nothing to justify the lofty artistic conceits surrounding it.