White Hinterland Kairos Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Idiosyncratic chamber-folk pixie takes brilliant left-turn.

Stevie Chick 2010

Kairos is an Ancient Greek word that describes a particularly fortuitous moment in time. It’s also the title of Casey Dienel’s third release as White Hinterland, the album where this Massachusetts-born, classically-educated singer-songwriter comes into her own.

Her 2008 album Phylactery Factory – following 2006’s debut Wind Up Canary, recorded under her own name while she was studying at New England Conservatory Of Music, and a rather overly-precious curio she’d now rather forget – was a painstakingly-etched, winningly offbeat set that suggested Dienel was, like Joanna Newsom, another Freaked Folkie in love with old-time orchestration and tangled songcraft. She thwarted such attempts at pigeonholing with the same year’s Luniculaire, an EP sung entirely in French, and including a delirious cover of J’ai 26 Ans, originally recorded by Brigitte Fontaine for Comme a la Radio, her 1971 collaboration with avant-jazz weirdniks the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Dienel throws a further curveball with Kairos, doing away with piano, guitar, strings – the acoustic instruments that previously made up her palette – in favour of synths and sequencers, a brave move that entirely pays off. Scoring her songs with electronica, Dienel is making no vain play for the dancefloor – rather, Kairos offers hypnotic digital chamber-pop, the minimal orchestration brilliantly foregrounding her playful and joyous vocals. This contrast, between the machine music and her most-human vocals, is particularly delicious on the sublime Begin Again, as sub-bass smudges and percussive clicks and whirrs play off Dienel’s swooning, lilting voice, pirouetting through effortless pop hooks. On Amsterdam, industrial clanking builds a mood of grey melancholy, Dienel’s multi-tracked yowls and yelps puncturing the gloom. No Logic, meanwhile, strings together loops of percussion and scratchy guitar to cook up a loping trance-pop somewhere between Eno and Byrne’s Bush of Ghosts and Konono #1’s Congotronics.

It’s impressively ambitious, experimental stuff, a brave leap on the part of a young artist. It’s an album that, in translating her Freak Folk into digital 0s and 1s, finds for Dienel a true, unique voice. It’s her golden hour, and you should bask in it.

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