It's easy to see that our fabric of global and social relations is frayed, at best. I'll be quick in reiterating the hot topics of late: terrorism, racial profiling, climate woes and struggling economies, all of which are working in tandem to create an undercurrent of fear and mistrust (or, on the flip side, a dissociated sort of numbness). In response to this world-teetering-on-a-pin state of current affairs, electronic producer KRTS (Kurtis Hairston) crafted a think piece told in broken beats, jungle, and deep house. The lens through which he views world affairs is of particular interest—as an American expat in Berlin, watching the unrest in his home country as both a native and now (technically) a foreign observer.
His sophomore album, Close Eyes to Exit, was crafted under the German-based label Project: Mooncircle, which describes the LP as an “exploration of progressive beats and elegant melodies.” It’s a compilation that cuts on a deep, emotional level, because entwined with the moments of frustration and anger are delicate and classically-infused reprises. KRTS doesn’t go for the obvious, stylistically or thematically. Close Eyes to Exit stirs the desensitized and calms the enraged—a welcome change from talking heads and cold, hard statistics.
This exploration of our unsettled world begins with "Sealed," which stretches just over a minute. It builds with a misty, choir-like chorus of “oohs” that are both softly sung and ominous, coming across as more of a mourning than a warning. Adding to its intensity are deep, deliberate piano keys, rising in a staccato style beside a taut and frenzied string section. These elements combine to craft a lamenting, eleventh-hour urgency that then deflates into crinkling, white-noise ambiance. A metaphor for our world’s current trajectory, perhaps?
Whatever the intent, it catches your interest and bridges your investment. Other, “softer” tracks include "Reizenstein" and "White Privilege" (even with its charged title). The first dives into light and sweeping interludes after a fuzzy, tinkering metallic start. The second has an ethereal, fluttering, harp-like accent with a muted percussion reminiscent of clapping hands and snaps. It’s a beautiful melody to match an ugly reality, and perhaps that’s exactly the point.
The harsher counterpart, then, would be "Serve and Protect," featuring Sacramento-based rapper Mad Flows. It begins with a looming police siren, punctuated by low, warped vocals as he raps overhead, “Ghetto children like ghosts / Their face expressionless / And all the news say / Another thug from a violent home.” It’s a powerful outcry against discrimination, with Mad Flows assuring us that turning the other cheek is no longer an option. “That’s why I bring fire to these cavemen” he asserts towards the song’s end, a promise to catapult humanity forward (and also a likely reference to the plight of Prometheus).
As for the album highlight, I would have to award "My Head is Jumpin’," featuring Charles and Tito of Brooklyn indie outfit Legs. It has dreamy undertones, mesmerizing vocals, and if you’re not one to save the best for last, listening should start here.
In all, Close Eyes to Exit faces the tough subject matter of our everyday without rose colored glasses or hot-headedness. It’s abstract and still organic, adding a visceral component to the news that’s so often lost in our feeds. Well done, KRTS.