Nov 05, 2013 Web Exclusive
London-based pop artist Kwes is supposedly gifted with chromesthesia, the ability to experience sound as color. Assuming the rich textures and surprising palettes that pop up on his long-awaited debut, ilp, are the result of his super-human ability, Kwes is putting it to good use. Ilp is an impulsive and disarming work of murky meditations structured less like a pop record and more like a Jackson Pollock painting. Songs weave in and out of rhythms, sounds come and go, and Kwes—with his thick London accent discernible through his mellow voice—sings delicately throughout, making careful strokes like a brush along a canvas.
The superb craftsmanship on ilp shouldn't be solely attributed to his unique gift, however. Kwes is undeniably a virtuoso in the studio, crafting his own brand of "freepop"—a stream-of-consciousness-inspired kind of songwriting that breaks down traditional structures and fills out the edges of the record with dreamy ramblings and clever experimentation. Ilp loses coherency in these moments of wild descent, but doesn't ever lose steam. Bursts of static and chiptune-esque beats are juxtaposed against swelling pastoral landscapes, and Kwes is as comfortable with exploiting the contrasts of volume as Andy Warhol was with color.
Opener "Purplehands" evokes the paintbrush metaphor from the start, and immediately elevates it to a place of relatable strangeness—"Red and blue makes purple/Crop circles buried the fruits of our love." "Rollerblades" is an innocent indulgence of '90s nostalgia, and for a minute it sounds like it might stick to a conventional structure, but it promptly wanders off into ambient territory. The second half of the album is heavier on the freepop tones, straying far from any semblance of recognizable melodies. This isn't always a bad thing, as blissful tracks like "Chagall" and "Parakeet" solder together groovy R&B soul with chilly electronic soundscapes, a marriage that is jarring at first but becomes more familiar as it carries on.
The closing track "b_shf_l" (pronounced "bashful") is elegant and danceworthy, but highlights the album's only flaw. For all its texture and depth, the synth-heavy production sounds nearly flat, but that's hardly an issue with the flourishes of creativity that make up of the bulk of ilp. Even for those of us can't see what Kwes sees when we hear his music, ilp is a colorful experience. (www.kwes.info)
Author rating: 7.5/10