Photo: AJ Korkidakis / Courtesy of Girlie Action

Kid Koala’s ‘Music to Draw To: Io’ Enlivens Creativity in This Midwinter Torpor

Kid Koala returns with the second volume to his ambient-vocal collaboration series. Music to Draw To: Io, featuring Trixie Whitley, is an album that does not provide background music but an active participant of the listener's creative process.

Music to Draw To: Io
Kid Koala
Arts & Crafts
25 January 2019

For many, January ends as a drab close to the new year. Shut in with scarce touches of daylight, during what feels to be a never-ending streak of frigid days, zealousness, and creativity subside. Especially for a Quebec native like Eric San, aka Kid Koala, this may be a time of stagnancy.

Perhaps, for these reasons, San chooses to share his ambient-vocal collaboration series at the end of Januarys. On 2017’s Music to Draw To: Satellite, featuring Emilíana Torrini, the legendary scratch DJ first tried his hand at composing a soundtrack for the listener’s creative process. Now, he returns with another antidote for our Midwinter torpor: Music to Draw To: Io, featuring Trixie Whitley.

With 18 lulling ambientscapes, Music to Draw To: Io patiently unwinds. San’s linear compositions are unassuming and nonintrusive, but not to a fault. Minimal ideas whirl until they are exhausted, aware that their simple beauty warrants repetition. Whether it’s the fragile guitar twangs on “Liminality”, or the prancing guttural keys on “Emuii”, every gentle progression echoes off in the distance. After all, San’s concept was to create “music that allows space for the listener’s own ideas”.

Yet, Music to Draw To: Io still provides moments that demand your full attention. For instance, “Transmission 5” is a subtle but powerful design of melancholy. The song builds like that of the crescendo masters Explosions in the Sky—its synths writher like post-rock guitars, and its kicks doubly pound like progressing heartbeats. Moreover, “Aphelion” proves the turntablist’s aptness for ambient music, conveying a multiplicity of meanings with minimal choices. The reverb-laden piano vastly resounds, slightly teetering from heartening to somber as if every keystroke is struggling to balance its emotions. So, the discord is present but understated. It’s available for the listener to close read, or to unconsciously consume while drawing to their own emotions.

Above all, the six songs that feature the vocalist Trixie Whitley seem to offer the least space for the listener’s own thoughts. Understandably, her personification of the Greek mythology of Io, an unwilling mortal lover of the god Zeus, is wholly gripping. She warns on “Hera’s Song”, “don’t test the strength within this nest”. Indeed, on “Diamond Heart”, her performance of the mythical blues asserts such strength. As the densest song of the album, lustrous synth arpeggios, sliding basslines, and even synthetic operatic vocals follow Whitley’s empowering delivery. In its end, the blues song about “a better time” transforms into an assertation of proud defiance, and she declares, “I choose to sing a different song.” Perhaps, these vocal songs do not necessarily follow the album’s ethos. Nonetheless, Whitley’s performances can inspire great works.

Music to Draw To: Io provides much more than the typical 24/7 lo-fi hip-hop radio channel or binaural beat playlist. While YouTube mixes may serve the same end purpose, San’s album functions in a vastly different way. His ambient-vocal collaboration series does not provide background music but an active participant of the listener’s creative process. This latest volume interchangeably works for active listeners, or passive listeners who are working on their own thoughts and crafts. Offering meditative instrumentals and mythical vocal ballads with Trixie Whitley, the 18 songs thoughtfully engage with the creative’s mind. For midwinter brings listlessness, but Music to Draw To: Io brings inspiration.

RATING 7 / 10