words by nate wagner
A few years after bursting onto the scene with a pair of LPs released on Western Vinyl, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has returned with The Kid, her third offering for the Austin, TX record label. Much in the same way each subsequent instalment of a beloved video game franchise privileges expansion and refinement over reinvention, The Kid continues to probe the questions of synthesis and mindfulness raised in Smith’s previous full-lengths without significant overhaul. And like many of the best video games, where the narrative is secondary to the world in which it is contained, Smith remains committed sonic world-building over traditional songwriting.
At the core of Smith’s compositions – thick strands of melody woven together with countless, ever-interchanging layers of harmony and accompaniment – are visions of life on the frontier. Where sky, water, stars, wild nature all loom larger than usual. Comparisons to experimental ambient auteurs like Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson – both renowned for their ability to shape space through sound – are apt, as are parallels to staple records from neighboring electronic subgenres (Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz comes to mind, as does Vektroid’s Polytravellers).
While Smith’s sonic approach is decidedly build around abstraction, The Kid’s thematic angle is anything but. Naturalism, Hindu spiritualism, meditative practice, mysticism, and contemporary notions of self-care coalesce in a call for rebirthing. Smith’s eponymous child is not some representative newborn life to be celebrated but a roadmap to a childlike state of mind accessible even to the most road-worn among us. Readable both as lines of a poem and as individual mandates, The Kid’s 13 song titles lay out the twists and turns of this path, while the album’s lyrics of affirmation – hushed, chanted, soaring, cascading – detail the growth and restoration that await the journeyer.
With panning synth arps and flutters of percussion, the album’s opener, “I am a Thought,” heralds the coming birth of The Kid in brief, segueing quickly and cleanly into “An Intention.” Here, we are greeted by a punchy kick and Smith’s voice, pitch shifted and refracted into layers that speak with the magnitude and grace of the cosmos. The kick subsides, the track fades, and the focus shifts from life-source to living being, from thought to material reality. “A Kid” is born, its life colorized by a pulsing high-pass four-on-the-floor, FM bass, and bursts of synth noise. The following suite of returns to and expands upon the sonic elements of the opening tracks, but with a growing emphasis on melodic elements.
On “In the World, but Not of the World” – as the Kid wizens, cracks, fades, ages – we begin to hear traces of acoustic instruments quickly overtaken by the synthetic. Is it an illusion? At first, perhaps. But the closer to the record’s end we get, the more undeniable and prominent these acoustic interventions become. On “I Will Make Room for You,” the infinite, indestructible synthetic gives way to strings and woodwinds, reminders wrought from plant and animal life of the Kid’s material and temporal nature. As quickly as the reality of Death appears, it is gone again, taking the Kid’s physical being along with it. But the spirit persists, and, as the title suggests, to be reabsorbed into the cosmic ether is indeed “To Feel Your Best.” Here, the synthetic of the pre-birth idea and the acoustic of the lived reality merge into one whole in a totality of being and tranquility. Smith’s pitch-shifted embodiment of the cosmic voice returns, showering the Kid in blessing.
This journey is not for Smith’s nameless wanderer alone. For those who are willing, The Kid offers an open invitation to shed cynicism and return to innocence. In a distracted, fractured age, this is indeed a challenging task without an obvious anchor point, a fact reflected in the album’s ethereal, fluid, elusive form. Without an initial commitment to the work it will require of mindfulness, you haven’t a hope to succeed. But breathe in, relax, close your eyes. You’ll find your way; The Kid is here to guide you.
The Kid is out now – you can buy it here