In Reflections in Real Time, Kilo Kish flies through impulsive depictions of her post-adolescent, internet-age anxieties
Yoking the implosive R&B of FKA Twigs to the attention-deficient dance-pop of Shamir, Kilo Kish's sound is better identified by its distinctive brand of frenetic lyricism than by any particular sonic formula. She races through words, images, and stream-of-consciousness micro-narratives before they are able to crystallize in your mind, creating a sense of fractured perception that deliberately refuses cohesiveness. Each track is like a late-night movie you turn on after it's already halfway through its runtime: it's possible to piece together the stories they contain, but they inevitably come out as tattered patchworks of assimilations and assumptions -- this-lyric-must-be-in-reference-to-this, this-sound-must-have-this-intention -- that fail to incorporate the realism and detail of a complete fictive arc. In this way, Reflections in Real Time enforces a breakneck game of conceptual catch-up.
Throughout the album, Kish flies through impulsive depictions of her post-adolescent, internet-age anxieties before any cogent sequence of cause and effect can be deciphered. For this very reason, she is able to portray these anxieties with greater accuracy, to capture their second-by-second fluctuations, because these are anxieties borne out of an electronic culture that constantly demands a series of real-time self-expressions that, after their dissemination, face immediate judgment by a spectator with zero context. Kish understands that these self-expressions -- me in an Instagram photo, me in a Facebook status, me in a blip of endlessly recycled data -- result in a perpetual and unfair trial of one's selfhood. But she's uncertain that she wants her every word and action to be judged in this way, and it is precisely this uncertainty that propels her onward, faster and faster, her words and cogitations pushed behind her as meaningless bytes of cyber-ephemera that putatively have no real bearing on her lived-in identity. But, then again: is she not implying the opposite? Is this act of separation just a way of underscoring the fact that every bit of social-media data-junk, no matter how trivial, can be linked back to an ego that intended its creation?
"Fulfillment?", an electro-R&B highlight from the record's middle act, starts with a jagged synth tessellation that gives sonic flesh to one of these bits of data-junk and turns it into a careening, get-it-out-of-my-head burst of psychic tension; the sound it incarnates is the sound of an old yet digitally immortalized photograph -- perhaps of Kish and a former boyfriend, her eyes emitting a muted fire yet to burn out -- that has incited the jealousy of her current lover. It's a sound that harasses her, that harasses her lover as well, morphing from an agglomeration of pixels and code into a specter-memory that won't leave either of them alone.
The song's lyric, then, could be heard as Kish's attempt to free herself from this synth sound and the anxieties it has provoked: "Just relax / Lighten the load of all the things that make me want to gag / Get rid of the you and me and him and her and this and that," she sings, calling for a clean start without any cyber baggage, each pronoun and demonstrative rolling together into one homogenous mass of depersonalized simulacra -- you, me, him, her, this, that -- that sounds like the lyrical equivalent of scrolling mindlessly through a Facebook news feed. Yet Kish's voice suggests that this clean start is, in fact, an impossibility. The drifting, wounded vocal improvisations that usher the track toward its end find her coming to terms with this realization and then searching for "something to live for" apart from her soon-to-be former lover.
"Obsessing", another album highpoint, advances this story to its next chapter. Kish's search has proved fruitless; she's been unable to exorcise this lover from her thoughts. Midway through the pre-chorus, suspended over a pool of neural synth tones and jittery, needlepoint percussion, she succumbs to her memories of him, dropping headfirst into this pool and thereby straight into one of the album's best melodies: "It's not like you need me / I’m stuck checking my phone," she sings, groping out from "need" to "me" like the gap between them is nearly unbridgeable, and while she completes the phrase, a part of this "me" never makes it past the "need" that preceded it. She comes out the other end a trembling subject dismembered by desire. Then the couplet's final syllable -- "phone" -- floats from her lips, encompassing the pathology that's now abrading the edges of her cortex, the pathology of an absent lover granted ubiquity through the kaleidoscopic viewfinder of social media and just-press-a-button-to-reach-me communication.
But this syllable is more than just a pathology. It contains volumes and depths that interpenetrate over its split-second span. But what volumes? And what depths? And what do they signify when mixed together and sieved through Kish's teeth? Over its stretch, you can hear the echo of Kish's claustrophobic R&B forerunner FKA Twigs and her words from LP1. "Lately I'm / Not so present now / Not enough / For your constant found," Twigs sings in "Pendulum", but now her vocal has been drawn into Kish's enunciation of "phone", and her lover's strangely formulated act of hyper-scrutiny -- "constant found" -- has likewise been pulled into Kish's lyric: she wants to be her obsession's "constant found", but instead he is hers, and so she checks her phone every ten minutes, every five, constantly finding that he hasn't contacted her. In this way, Twigs and Kish reveal themselves to be in conversation with one another. Obsession, in the digital era, is not preoccupation with an absence, but rather a "constant finding" of the various bytes of cyber-ephemera that an ex-lover leaves behind and generates.
While both "Fulfillment?" and "Obsessing" are standout tracks, Reflections in Real Time suffers from a lack of focus. "Hello, Lakisha" and "Existential Crisis Hour", for example, both revolve around cartoonish vocals and mile-a-minute pacing, and thus seem ill-fitting alongside the sharp intensity of a work like "Obsessing". There are also some songs here that, while transitional, feel suspiciously like filler, such as "Poem A" and "On the Mend". But perhaps that is Kish's intent: to throw a lot at you at once, some of it important, some of it not, leaving it up to you to decide what to judge her on.