REVIEW: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS

Kelly Kirwan

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's music is what happens when Mother Nature meets synthesizer. Her latest compilation, EARS, is a carefully-constructed world where arpeggios come to life as metal-molded archipelagos, and string sections are reimagined as a rustle of wind through the trees. In the words of the artist herself,  EARS was meant to feel like “a 3D motion ride through a futuristic jungle," which turns the whole flash-forward gimmick on its head. It strays away from the stereotypical image of chrome, Chicago Cloud Gate-esque structures and Concord-speed subway systems. Smith’s future is an interplay of technology and the wild, a mingling of woodwinds and sounds ripped straight from a tropical forest. Smith then funnels these noises and instruments through her trusty Buchla 100, a synthesizer that feels plucked from a galaxy far, far away (or at least could take you there, with a twist of the right nob).

This affinity for nature took root in Smith’s childhood, growing up on Orcas Island just off the Washington coast, which she’s deemed “one of the most magical and peaceful places I’ve ever been.” The sense of space she felt on Orcas as a kid was what she vied for on her latest album—or, at least, the freedom that comes with being able to stretch out and take up space (a far-off concept for us city folk). Motifs of air run rampant through EARS, with Smith’s breath becoming an instrument and sound effect in and of itself. Even her single, "Arthropoda," begins with five seconds of silence, emphasizing a sense of independence and disconnect we don’t often find in our everyday lives. The track then dives into an array of jungle ambiance and electronics; it really does feel as though the Amazon is coming to life, and you wonder if you’re hearing cymbals or actual cicadas, the ribbit of a frog or a deftly-composed synthesizer.

Smith’s voice, on "Arthropoda" and elsewhere, is breezy and understated. She layers her lyrics over one another for this effect, evoking a sense of a spiritual ritual with her chants. The track's accompanying video, shot in a Swedish skate park, is a perfect reflection of EARS as a whole: a one-woman modern dance sequence in an empty, vaguely futuristic concrete expanse, presenting a stark contrast between the animate and the inanimate. "Wetlands" is another track that plays with layering. At times it’s peaceful, almost evocative of the morning light and the world waking up. It builds on itself, with Smith’s vocals playing out like a mesmerizing incantation.

Despite the dearth of lyrics on EARS, it nonetheless has a narrative quality—you're engulfed by a new environment that’s stitched together with threads both familiar and foreign. Smith has created a work that could be branded as both an LP and a meditative experience. Try not to miss it.