Now in its tenth year, Kid Koala’s series of ‘Music To Draw To…’ events has won and enduring place the hearts of minds of audiences. Starting as ambient and low-key tunes played by the scratch dj / mixologist as attendees filled sketchpads with drawings, paintings, doodles, and poems, the intimate events have now inspired two albums of original material from the artist, also known as Eric San.
A couple of years ago we spoke with Kid Koala about Music To Draw To: Satellite. That album featured the rare talent of Emilíana Torrini. The sequence offered audiences the themes of love, space travel, distance and deep, ambient reflection. It was a work of staggering beauty. Extending beyond music it leant back into the culture from which it came. Now San returns, this time with another uniquely talented female vocalist – Trixie Whitley. The album is called Music To Draw To: IO. And it answers the question, “How do you follow such an other-worldly album?”
IO draws inspiration from the fractious global landscape; the discord and imbalance of power that populates our news feeds. It is rooted in a human experience of immortal questions. But don’t worry – none of that stuff is directly addressed. IO was also the name of the unwilling mortal lover of Zeus in Greek mythology, and that is the story that sets the theme for this sequence of tracks.
Trixie Whitley has a voice that tethers amorphous tones to a spaced-out sense of blues. The way she breathes through a line makes powder from concrete. Weight is turned to flight. The substances here float freely. Tracks are sequenced to transport the mind, and to manifest creativity between listening ear and listening fingers. The process works wonderfully. Whitley doesn’t appear on every track in the sequence. The vocal structure, and the lyrical themes punctuate the journey like a magician spinning plates. Gravity and momentum are set in play – ambient tones and dissolving forms unfold – they are simply kept spinning by the human element, represented by the singer, moving between dreams.
This second album in the Music To Draw To sequence occupies the negative space of the canvas well. Kid Koala knows how to alternate currents. He toys with light and shade, and he draws the eyes and ears away from external imposition. There is no hurry to project emotional force. Eric San has a manifesto designed to bring audience and artist together in balanced, equal dialog. However, a moment like ‘Hera’s Song’ happens, and we’re shown that amidst this nuanced beauty Kid Koala is capable of depicting the sinister, unnerving aspects of the modern condition. When called upon, the artist can make solid brutalism somehow beautiful. There is darkness here, is passes through Eric San’s alchemy, and it shimmers.
Music To Draw To: IO articulates San’s vision well. It is distinctly different from ‘Satellite’ and yet we know the two releases share DNA. Kid Koala is an artist who doesn’t like to repeat too many templates, so whilst the approach is similar the results bring new challenges, new kinds of quiet, but also a new scale of concern.
Kid Koala has encouraged audiences to get headphones on, and listen to this sequence as intimately as possible. It’s true – the rewards of plugging this stuff directly into your head are enormous. The cavernous sounds, the bottomless blues of Whitley’s soulful lungs, the theta waves of Kid Koala’s instrumental patterns produce a deep, meditative experience. But y’know – this is also an album that does well when played at volume from open windows, out into the night. There’s a freedom to be experienced here. It’s stunning, dark, bold, and beautiful.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY AJ KORKIDAKIS