Album review: KMRU – ‘Logue’: expansive ambient electronica with intelligence and a found-sound bliss

The Breakdown

Imagine the sort of album The Orb's Alex Paterson might have made with premiere sound recordist Chris Watson, maybe with Monolake at the faders and lending ideas; at once old-skool and nu-skool ambient, with bookends of purer, generative analogue electronica admitting you to a more organic, blissful core. Blissful, thoughtful, deeper than it first appears; this is a bloody lovely record. Buy.

JOSEPH KAMARU is the Nairobi and Berlin-based artist who drops the vowels and contracts his surname for the world of music as KMRU.

With twin bases straddling that most musically inventive of European cities and the Kenyan capital, Joseph knows a thing or two about wide vistas, a far-sighted reach, a breathtaking approach to soundscaping.

After self-releasing for a number of years now Logue is his first excursion for the excellent Injazero Records, set up by producer and journalist Siné Buyuka in 2015 and which can already enumerate very, very fine releases by Snowdrops, Mike Lazarev, C. Diab and Matt Emery among its catalogue.

Resident Advisor listed him among its choices for its “15 East African Artists You Need To Hear” article in 2018; he appears regularly at the celebrated Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda, and has also performed at the CTM Festival in Berlin and the Gamma Festival in Russia.

Last year he dropped a trio of albums including Peel, for Editions Mego; Opaquer, for Michigan’s Dagoretti, and the cassette-only Jar, for Frankfurt’s Seil Records.

Logue is a compilation drawing on years of self-released works spanning the years 2017 to 2019, carefully selected for a blissful and intelligent journey. He draws on the massive German ambient tradition and brings African influences through field recordings from Kenya and adjoining East African states, lending a bright lushness to his clean, spatial works. His gradually unfolding sonic landscapes are always playing off that other atmosphere of field recordings, allowing his Kenyan culture not just to shine through but to marry and twine with a standing ambient canon.

“Every track reflects an event, space or location,” he says. “The pieces are developed from field recordings, improvisation and spontaneity.”

His music moves glacially slowly, a good thing in a world marred by the frenetic, despite (depending on your location) the faux respite of lockdown; it has that depth and sweep you find in Thomas Köner, Loscil, Stars of the Lid and other such scions, but while working with a great and familiar form he also brings a unique tonal voicing with his use of field recordings from across his home continent; also the antiphony (call and response, or almost a dialogic musical style), common to African musical traditions.

Joseph Kamaru, aka KMRU

“Argon” begins the journey through Joseph’s world of sound in track named, I presume, for the noble gas; it evolves from a retro synth voicing with a minor interlude that pretty much envelops you from the get-go, soon gains companionship in a high glimmer of cycling melody, that swoops and transports. You could say that this is entirely within the pocket of the genre, as it were; and it doesn’t pull any especially new tricks, but this sort of seeming melodic simplicity is so hard to get right. When you hear something in this field not quite reach its intended target, oh boy, you so you know; it’s deflating and it’s jarring. “Argon” works with sweeps of tone, rising and falling, beautifully designed sound and nuance. It sounds like a classic British ambient tune on Rising High, and that’s a complete compliment. It takes real understanding to get here.

“Jinja Encounters” is one of the earliest tracks collated herein, and is an aural representation of some of Joseph’s first trips outside Kenya; the experience of new sights, full of discovery and wonder. When you get here you see that “Argon” was a heralding declaration of intent, a rousing call to hear; because “Jinja Encounters” is a much mellower, more organic being, the relaxing bustle of humans busy being themselves, birdsong, water, creaking, all beautifully recorded, bed in a gentle glissando. This in turn mutates to bring a more electronic, halcyon brightness, which marries with a thrumming rhythm – which has that Berlin trick of being entirely present without ever becoming demanding. There’s a dubby space in the melody that gives gaps to fall into.

“OT” was the announcing single when the album was revealed back in March and it really is quite the way to say hello; a wide-open landscape of chattering bells, an ecosystem of other deft, nuanced electronic garlanding, partially somehow flesh, you feel; joyous calls, off in the distance; off-kilter polyrhythms skittering past from right to left, and combining with the underlying synths to suggest propulsion without insisting on it. Again, there’s an almost Basic Channel thing at work, the implied beat never overriding the floating swirl above. Some of the swoops and bubbles of pure sound and dubby found-vocal glee nod to The Orb of “The Blue Room”. It’s a beautiful, ,deep and placid track – and you can sample it down below at the end.

“A Meditation of Listening” is true to its title, is fashioned from the same components as the preceding “OT”, with an added super-cool and immersive tone; birdsong glories around two entwining melodies, one bell-like and vamping, flying free; the other Berlin digi-dubby, anchoring. Within that marriage of the two is a gestalt of implied polyrhythm that later picks up the gentlest, muted snare and low bass. But really it’s all about the core of the track which you’re invited to dive into; the sounds of life lived, bubbling, creaking, muttering, shuffling, buzzing, twittering; all of which you’re invited to interpret, be within, while the melody serves just as your guide to the world. Clever as hell and one you’ll play time and time again.

“Und” is awash with more of that same beguiling field recording scene-setting, hear bright with synth mid-tones and a light, pastoral piano, seemingly sculling downriver; in this passage of the album Joseph isn’t even showing you the lands of his childhood; he’s taken you there. We’ve come a way from the retrotronic synths of the opener, and this is a very beautiful place to be.

“11” is the sixth track, which I’m guessing makes some kind of sense somewhere; and we lift gently out of that fluvial riverside bliss back towards a sun-dazzled IDM, a graceful break gliding us forward with big, dubby resonances in tow and an electric, wiry subtone that hums deliciously, making a break for a more Warp feel. It fair crackles with heat and glow.

“Bai Fields” has an almost Japanese feel in its introduction, a percussive, wood-struck melody, fanciful and pleasing that meanders and drops, complex and spacious, playing off a more traditionally analogue chatter underneath. It scatters notes like seeds to the wind, borne aloft on more field recording; it disperses and accelerates, blown this way and that. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again’ clever stuff.

The title track flowers from a similar base with the tumbling insistence of the seminal minimalists like Terry Riley and Philip Glass, gleaming and clicking, with a little deft glitchy chop-up to keep you on your toes. As with the opening track, there’s such complexity inherent in the simplicity; and we ease ever so smoothly down and back out in “Points”, beatless, an almost vibraphone tonal shimmering, again melodically twined of dual, antiphonal components that never quite seem to mutate, nor repeat, with a Geiger-counter clickiness to complete things. It has an Autechre-like quality. And exhale.

KMRU’s compendium album – for this is how it is termed – is a window into the mind of a young African musician who really, truly gets this musical form, has crafted some astonishing little gems herein; if this is, to all intents and purposes almost a juvenilia, then we have so much to look forward to.

Imagine the sort of album The Orb’s Alex Paterson might have made with premiere sound recordist Chris Watson, maybe with Monolake at the faders and lending ideas; at once old-skool and nu-skool ambient, with bookends of purer, generative analogue electronica admitting you to a more organic, blissful core.

I’ve sensed for a while that this sort of ambience, as also realised so beautifully by The Irresistible Force and Global Communications, might come again strongly, and this and J. Willgoose’s Late Night Final project from the end of last year certainly point the way.

Blissful, thoughtful, deeper than it first appears; this is a bloody lovely record. Buy.

KMRU’s Logue will be released by Injazero Records digitally and on vinyl on May 14th, and is available to pre-order from the label shop, here.

Connect with KMRU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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