Self-starter

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  April 13, 2010

With no chronological time to worry about (or studio fees to pay), Kairos luxuriates in its own rippling, radiant present. Most songs build from subtly expanding loops that acquire character slowly, like things left outside. “Thunderbird” summons refreshed energy with each layered loop of Dienel’s voice — it’s as if the song itself were breathing. “Icarus” opens with streaks of vocal cirrus clouds; then a beat snaps into place, and her curious melody coils around it like a long vine. Her writing has a way with timelessness, even as her production smuggles in plenty of modern touches — like the icy Junior Boyisms of “Cataract,” or the loping digital dubbiness of “Begin Again.” The music seems to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

“I listened to 14th-century choral music,” she says. “I wrote songs by beat-boxing into a loop pedal. I taught myself how to sing again, and I was so turned on by these things that the songs just started coming very rapidly. And I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing.”

The best moments of Kairos are its least adorned. “Huron” is just a hypnotically subdued beat, distant washes of synth, and the masterful path of Dienel’s melody flying like a leaf on a breeze atop an undulating cycle of harmonies. “No Logic” finds her in the higher altitudes of her style, with only the very tops of the beat breaking through a thick haze of her vocals — like mountains through clouds, perhaps?

“I like music to be somewhere between virtuosic and inspired,” she tells me. “Sometimes, I feel like, when I’m writing, I’m having a séance — or I’m blindfolded and tightrope-walking. The best songs I’ve ever written, the ones I want to play all the time, are the ones I wrote with my eyes closed, when I kept walking and didn’t worry about them. It’s the most harrowing part of the process, but it’s also the best part.”

In sound and vision, this is all quite a departure from the baroque intricacies and fantastical predilections of her previous work — especially the work under her own (and publicly retired) name. Dienel knows full well that many of her original backers are a little perplexed by her move toward the synthetic and the sampled — and she gets it. “Maybe a couple years ago, I might have hated on a band for doing the kind of things I’m doing now,” she laughs.

Although Dienel and Shawn Creeden (her “magic maker,” as she calls him) perform a set largely based in triggered samples, it’s just as full of uncertainty and hazard as a full-band outing — as Dienel puts it, “Your variables are hanging out in the wind.” True to her belief that songs shouldn’t stay static, each one evolves and collapses of its own accord when performed live. The main goal is to avoid coming off like karaoke, and to let the songs live some of the life that they came to way back when. “I’ve seen iPod bands that were electrifying, and I’ve seen some that were really boring. Bad music can happen to anyone.”

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