Kuedo: Slow Knife

Kuedo envelopes the listener in a bold, cinematic album that transcends time and place.


Slow Knife

Label: Planet Mu
US Release Date: 2016-10-14
UK Release Date: 2016-10-14

On his solo debut, Severant, Kuedo crafted a wholly original album full of shimmering, cinematic landscapes. He took the filmic work of Vangelis and Mike Oldfield and updated it with more trap, hip-hop beats behind the lucid, gleaming synths. It was a refreshing and sophisticated album that could have fitted perfectly as the soundtrack to any of the great sci-fi works of the 1980s. It shared Vangelis’ ability to create textured, synth soundscapes that could shift from contemplative ambiance to dramatic anxiety over the course of a single song.

Slow Knife, the follow up to Severant, continues to draw influences from Vangelis, but is a piece entirely of it’s own. Kuedo is an artist uninterested in genre, time or place. The music on here resists labeling and is all the better for it. It could lazily be described as 'futuristic', but then that would misunderstand the concepts of futurism and futurology. The music still owes a great debt to the past, particularly when it comes to the synths, however he updates those sounds to create something that could only be created here and now. It astounds because it transcends place and time, sounding like it could have come from 30 years ago or 30 years in the future.

It's clear that Kuedo still wants the album to sound relatable and personal and to do that there is a suggested narrative running throughout. The ebb and flow of the album suggests a relationship that is threatened by collapse. This relationship can be seen as metaphorical or literal and doesn’t necessarily have to be between two people. Read in this way, the album as a whole details the passage of that relationship as we experience its ups and downs. The relationship is given time to slowly unfold as it approaches collapse before we witness the subsequent aftermath.

The opening notes of “Hourglass” ring out like church bells before giving way to minimalist percussion that allows the warm and airy synths to take center stage. The whole thing echoes the passing of time until it abruptly stops like the final grains of sand falling to the bottom (of an hourglass). “In Your Sleep” is the only song to feature vocals with a surprisingly soft, whispered vocal from Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts. It has an almost monastic quality with its low, measured rhythm and the repetitive beats that ping around the speakers. It serves as a valuable counterpoint to the gloom of the previous song “Under the Surface”, which ends with a mournful, stretched saxophone coda. The title song, “Slow Knife”, is another example of the totally immersive soundscapes Kuedo creates. The bass and synths orbit each other at a respectful distance. It’s possible to soon forget where you are, akin to falling asleep on the train and waking up well after your stop.

The undercurrent of menace and impending threat is epitomized by the aptly titled “Approaching”. Kuedo skillfully uses the wobbly sound of a flute to evoke the feeling of a situation teetering on the edge of collapse. The oppressive mood of the middle section lifts on the later half of the album. “In Your Skin” and the swirling “Warmer Light” seem lighter and more buoyant. They act as bastions of hope. Whatever the threat was, it has since receded. Nevertheless, the taut almost industrial beats of album closer “Lathe” give the impression that, while the threat might have retreated, it certainly hasn’t gone away entirely. Like the sudden, unexpected blink of a supposedly dead movie villain just before the screen fades to black.

Although this is clearly an electronic album, Kuedo is adept at using organic instrumentation that he manipulates and processes into previously unheard forms. For example “Under the Surface” features a a strangled saxophone passage. Similarly, “Black Hole” elongates the brassy notes of the saxophone to make it less familiar and give it an almost jarring quality. He also adds a cello to heighten the general feeling of anxiety. This is a common theme when it comes to his use of instrumentation. “Breaking the Surface” again features punctuations of heavily processed instruments which gives the impression that there is something, physical or metaphorical, ominously lurking just beneath the surface. It is interesting to hear how the sound of the saxophone decays over the course of the album echoing the corrosion of a relationship.

This is modern soundtrack music. Kuedo has updated the soundtrack work of Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and Jean Michel Jarre to spellbinding effect. The cinematic soundscapes he creates are sophisticated and hugely evocative. The music is broad and spacious with beats and sounds used economically.This is still a very personal and grounded album, firmly rooted in the domestic and unencumbered by the big questions or huge interplanetary concepts. Kuedo adroitly balances feelings of dread and comforting warmth over the course of the album to leave a mesmeric piece of work.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less

South Pole Station is an unflinching yet loving look at family in all its forms.

The typical approach of the modern debut novel is to grab its audience's attention, to make a splash of the sort that gets its author noticed. This is how you get a book deal, this is how you quickly draw an audience -- books like Fight Club, The Kite Runner, even Harry Potter each went out of their way to draw in an audience, either through a defined sense of language, a heightened sense of realism, or an instant wash of wonder. South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby's debut, and its biggest success is its ability to take the opposite approach: rather than claw and scream for its reader's attention, it's content to seep into its reader's consciousness, slowly drawing that reader into a world that's simultaneously unfamiliar and totally believable.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.