There’s a gentle kind of alchemy at work on Euclid, making it feel like the work of someone with an unshakable belief in magic. Bay Area composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has produced works before, ranging from the glacial wistfulness of Useful Trees to electronic compositions with a distinctly agrarian hue (Cows will eat the weeds). This album, her first for Western Vinyl, is Smith’s most complete album yet, with a range that encompasses something approaching song structure and a form of ambient drift that nimbly floats up into the stratosphere. The overall feeling of enchantment is only heightened by learning that Euclid was recorded primarily on a Buchla Music Easel, a synth as colorful as the sounds it creates, and vocal passages that only occasionally resemble words. She puts some separation between its two sides, flooding Euclid’s first half with song-y material then plunging into a reflective pool in its backend, making it feel like Smith took out a pair of scissors and carefully cut the record in two.
The most noticeable trait of Euclid is how light it feels—there’s very little bass, nothing much to hold it down. It appears to just float there in front of you, opening up its kaleidoscopic layers. Smith grew up in isolation, on an island in Washington state, and there’s a certain singularity to her work that surely grew out of those roots. She often appears adrift in her music, endlessly laying strips of sound over one another until everything’s just right. For “Careen”, Smith works in a space similar to the one inhabited by High Places in the latter part of the last decade, where hippy idylls, rustic charm, and gusty pop combine as one. If there is a darker component to her work it’s in the processed vocals, which resemble the type of squelchy effects Karin Dreijer Andersson tried on for the Knife’s Silent Shout on “Wide Awake”. Still, those are only loose comparisons—a big part of the charm of Euclid is in hearing someone mapping out their own space and time, figuring out their own destination to land in.
Of the first half-dozen songs here it’s in “Sundry” that everything coalesces, with Smith drawing on a tone that’s just the right side of whimsical. It’s here that her instrumental passages squeak and cry, feeling like she’s conducting a dialogue with them through the wordless vocal inflections skirting across the top. There’s joy, although not the kind that gives over to abandon—her music is slightly too studied for that. Smith indulges the considered side of her personality further on the set of “Labyrinth”-themed tracks that make up the second half of Euclid, where rain-like trickles of synth vie with cloudier electronics and deep pulses purposefully obscured in the mix. It’s in a similar sphere to Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe, where rhythms come together then break apart, where a single one- or two-note riff becomes a macrocosm unto itself. Sometimes it’s a little too blurry, but it’s superseded by the way Smith works her way around sounds to open up new dimensions in them.
There’s a video clip of Smith playing her Music Easel, which enforces this album’s air of beauty mixed in with color and conjury. Smith plugs brightly colored cables into its modular interface and her hands drift over its silvery keys, creating an expanse of sound that’s more elastic than you might expect from just a few operations. There’s an element of gear fetishization to it for sure, but also a healthy dose of wonder, causing it to feel like you’re watching someone just as enamored of the process of discovery as they are with delivering a final product. That’s a useful way to describe Euclid, with Smith figuring out a place to operate in somewhere between structure and freedom, often indulging one and not the other. This feels like a beginning rather than a natural way forward, but it’s driven by an important idea—where the process of separation can be a more powerful and intuitive way of working than forcing harmony upon contrasting ideas.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1DSYPbf