Nursery Of New Stars
North Carolina’s Josh Reed has been releasing music as Kangarot (a perplexing moniker to be sure) for a couple of years now. He first came to our attention via a split single with By Any Means Necessary, the roots EBM project of Reed’s sometime collaborator Sam Witherspoon, and has had a small trickle of releases since. Either self-released or on boutique cassette labels, his music has clung to the scraping, lo-fi electro-industrial of BAMN, or a sort of retro synth noodling which isn’t quite icy enough to be minimal wave or grim enough to be dark electro. His second full-length, Nursery of New Stars, heralds a big move forward for Kangarot, both in terms of the strength of the project’s compositions, and (perhaps more intriguingly) in the range of sources and sounds it takes inspiration from, leaping from cosmic to concrete with a deft and playful touch.
Krautrock synth pads and chill washes share time with rubbery beats and arpeggios from the earliest days of dark electro throughout Nursery of New Stars, creating an off-kilter but always engaging sound. While it technically doesn’t resemble their music, I’m tempted to draw a comparison between this record and Severed Heads, if only for the lively and frothy sense of fun its anything-goes approach to warm, analogue sounds engenders. There’s nothing “lush” or “organic” about a track like “Sufficient Energy” per se – every synth voice is clearly delineated from the other and sticks to its own regimented space in the mix – but the actual melodies and the simple but effective synth voices Reed’s picked for the track quickly work their magic, conjuring up the sort of all-enveloping world veteran producers shoot for with far soupier tracks. The moods and sounds of kosmische and dark electro come together in a hybrid form which should have been struck upon either in Belgium or Germany in the mid 80s, but was somehow never conceived.
Nursery of New Stars‘s hybrid style carries over to its production as well: there’s a clear distinction between album’s rawer sounds and its more polished passages. Generally that dichotomy aligns with the types of sounds you’d expect – the dark electro crunches are distorted and in the red, while the soft, spacey sweeps are immaculate (as on “Ionized”) – but this isn’t always the case. I’m not sure if this is a conscious move on Reed’s part or just a byproduct of him still making early experiments as a producer, but either way it’s not an unpleasant factor. It might prevent the album from having a completely unified feel, but it also gives it a quirky vibe not incommensurate with the aforementioned Severed Heads mood.
Nursery of New Stars isn’t perfect, but even its misses feel like legitimate attempts at new fusions rather than rote exercises. When it does hit the mark there’s a sense of freshness hard to wring from hardware as old as that with which Reed is mucking about. Not unlike Leæther Strip’s Serenade for the Dead II from earlier this year, it’s a testament to just how flexible the dark electro template can be in the hands of those (old or young) willing to carry it off on strange new journeys. Recommended.