iamamiwhoami – “play” (2012) (single review)

When we previously looked at the new material coming out of Jonna Lee’s iamamiwhoami project, we found that her synth side project had evolved from experimental film whodunnit into something much more succinct, poppy, and remarkably catchy. “Goods” was the final track off of Kin, iamamiwhoami’s first official album, and it was funky, emotive, and really, really fun. We called it “The Most Inexplicable Song of the Summer Candidate You’re Ever Gonna Hear”, and even now, that statement still stands.

Yet diving deeper into Kin reveals just how well constructed and multifaceted this project is. After several listens, the whole thing begins to feel like the best Bjork album that Bjork never made: sonically daring without sacrificing song structure or emotive impact. The songs are very good and the corresponding film for the disc (feature wild choreographed numbers with a bunch of mop/Wookie creatures) is a miniature epic in its own right; but at the end of the day, there is one other track that stands out strongly from the rest.

“Play” is a tune that features wheezing, failing synths, creating an extremely distinct sonic impression, the low bass sounds serving as a great anchor for Lee’s high-pitched, echoed vocals. While there are times where her lyrics are a bit hard to understand on this album, “Play” brings everything into focus, creating a remarkably sweet portrait of a one-sided romance in action:

“Move closer now

Your hands just knocked me off my feet

I’m like a puppet now

I cannot move to my own beat

But I can dance tonight

And make up songs for us to sing

You hold my heart because it’s cheap

Into your rhythm I will shout

My love of play”

It’s potent stuff, and with the numerous vocal elements brought in (from the “la la la’s” after the chorus to the small harmonious add-ons in the second verse), it is surprisingly evocative, that fine mix of cold electronics and a beating human heart at the center making something that’s completely distinct and endlessly fascinating. in fact, it might very well be one of the best tracks of the year.

A nice little coda to this whole thing is the work of YouTuber Unplugged70, a UK-based guitarist who has taken it upon himself to cover every single iamamiwhoami song on his solo acoustic. He doesn’t do any fancy tricks with his interpretations, and is actually able to turn songs like the minor key club thump of “In Due Order” into something more stripped-down and unique in its own right. The man’s love of the source material keeps the whole thing grounded, and comparing every single track to his covers shows just how clever his learned-by-ear arrangements are.

Heck, seeing the sheer number of covers pop up around the Kin project shows just how well this material is being received, and, with any luck, will bode well for even more great music in the future (all with insanely bizarre music videos to go along with them, of course).

iamiamiwhoami — “play”

Unplugged70 — “play (cover)”

RATING 9 / 10