Australian cousins deliver genre-fusing debut album of understated dancefloor euphoria, tinged with darker undertones of isolation and self reflection as the impact of their early successes are realised.
Backwater is the debut album from Australian duo, Chloe Kaul, and Simon Lam. The record builds on a breakthrough year for the band in 2016, with their EP Well Worn enjoying robust playback and the group touring extensively, seeing them travel globally and continue to attract the attention of tastemakers the world over.
Lead single "Virtue" provides the perfect introduction to what Kllo do best; melodic electronica that nods its head to a number of influences while retaining its own identity. The drums stutter, the bassline is rich and propulsive, and the synths skitter on top. Kaul's smooth and sultry vocals remain central, co-existing with the track as though an instrument itself, imploring "can I count on you". These themes of isolation and anxiety recur throughout Backwater. On the UK garage-influenced "Last Yearn", for example, the refrain of "where are we going, I need some closure from you, where do we go from here" is delivered with such earnest vulnerability.
These emotional motifs reflect subtle changes in the outlook for the pair, with personal and musical maturation as a result. Backwater builds on what has come before but adds a sense of evolution to their music, something the band credit in part due to the impact of being away from friends and family so much in the past 12 months. Lyrically the album is rooted in relationship troubles, symbolic of the isolation of touring. Opener "Downfall" provides an early insight into this growing maturity, a sparse opener with a roving baseline that provides an understated introduction for new listeners. Their music is naturally restrained, building with a deep, steady pulse rather than short and sharp bursts of energy. As a result, it has much more in common with artists such as Alpines and James Blake rather than more popular post-EDM chart acts.
However, tracks such as "Dissolve" prove blazing drums and horns are not required to create moments of dancefloor euphoria, maximising the use of space in their production, offset against the double-time drums and deep synths to bring the sense of acceptance of the breakdown of a relationship to life. Clever use of subtle breakdowns on the chorus of "By Your Side" and looped vocals on "Making Distraction" add variety while "Nylon" has touches of superstar pop acts like Adele. It is a touching acoustic moment that allows Kaul's vocals to take center stage and introduces a beautiful and personal closing section of the album as she sings "I don't want to die young, I don't want to hold us back". It feels like a release of emotions that have built indirectly across the course of the album and the past year, and it is reflective of the confidence of the band that they are happy to deliver a track like this on their debut. "Not Like Them" closes the records and ties it all together, with reflections such as "friends keep changing" and "I've been alone without realizing" proving the most cathartic moments on the album. If more of these could have been provided throughout, Backwater would have been even stronger for it.
As a result, a few tracks such as "Predicament" miss the mark, with the minimalist production dominating and the lyrical content too generic to elevate it. The 2-step drums which the band often use can also become a little repetitive over 12 tracks. Nonetheless, working on an album for the first time, the Melbourne pair do not seem overwhelmed or lost with the extended play time. There is a strong stylistic motif that carries through, but within this, there is a subtle exploration of sounds and styles, which only an album format would allow, with touches of '90s R&B, UK garage, electronica, and sultry pop all evident.
Backwater is a fantastic debut album from a duo who have prioritized their sound over chart baiting success. The result is a mature, subtle record ready for dancefloors and living rooms alike and a testament to the ever-strengthening Australian electronic scene.