Negative Gain Productions
Mr.Kitty’s sound has been so fully realized for so long now that any new album from Forrest Lemaire brings with it a host of questions. In the case of new record Ephemeral the primary question is where Lemaire goes from his excellent 2017 LP A.I., a record that demonstrated Lemaire’s consolidated aesthetics as a producer of emotional electropop, but also his skill as a producer, performer and songwriter. Turns out the answer is to go bigger, specifically to produce a 30-track double album, the largest and longest release of his career by a significant margin. That decision brings with it several challenges, not the least of which is how Mr.Kitty can stay being the Mr.Kitty we’ve all come to know, without repeating or diluting his intensely personal work. It’s a feat, but Lemaire manages it, working from the template that we’ve come to associate with him, and finding new ways to expand it to fill the massive canvas of Ephemeral.
Those seeking the sort of emotional club songs that have become Mr.Kitty’s stock and trade will find them in good supply here. Numbers like “My Weak Side”, “Disconnect Lover” and “Anguish” are down the pipe in the best way; the simple but sticky leads, solid rhythm programming and plaintive vocals are textbook for Lemaire, and show off how adept he’s gotten with his standard toolset. You can point to any number of past Mr.Kitty tracks made from the same building blocks, but these stand on their own as successful compositions in their own rite. It’s all in the subtle variations in execution, the way he dials back the tempo and vocal effects on “In Your Arms” to make the bouncy ballad feel more intimate and confessional, or the elasticity in the groove of “Rain” makes it the subconscious focus for the track. In his wheelhouse Lemaire displays a skill and confidence commensurate with the work he’s put into figuring out how to do all this stuff himself. That easy sense of assurance is an intangible but important part of his appeal now; for an artist who makes music that deals with self-doubt, uncertainty and generalized sorrow, he never sounds anything less than absolutely committed and certain.
While those themes hold through Ephemeral almost wholly uninterrupted, there are plenty of new musical tricks and modes Lemaire’s keen to field test on the record’s near two hour stretch. The pop-trap beats on “Empty Phases” which allow Lemaire’s voice to sky off into misty reaches, half sedated and half wounded, are very much in keeping with the attention that’s always been given to broader pop sounds on Mr.Kitty records, but there are plenty more unexpected turns. There’s the doomed high school daydream romance of the aforementioned “In Your Arms” which carries Cure feels and even some classic Leaether Strip dark electro violence on “Bloodletting”. These are easy enough lateral steps for Lemaire to make; he’s had the respectively melancholic and raging moods those styles call for on lock for years, and all that’s required is some shifts in instrumentation and arrangement. But it’s the futurepop moments on Ephemeral which are the most stunning new developments. Yes, you read that right: Mr.Kitty’s just released a handful of the best futurepop tunes we’ve heard in years. In retrospect, this perhaps shouldn’t be shocking: futurepop always depended on grand, emotional honesty and euphoric pads and arpeggios, elements which Lemaire’s certainly adroit at using. But hearing them reconfigured so that “Melting Core” sounds a close cousin of the rise and fall of classic VNV joints, or to allow “Cyst” to hover in the same reflective headclouds as Assemblage 23 is more than a bit uncanny. If nothing else it’s making us rather nostalgic.
Lemaire recently noted that Ephemeral broke his three-LP streak of ordering tracks by title length. That’s a slightly coy way of invoking the issue of albumcraft, certainly no small question when there are 30 tracks to be arranged. Truthfully, apart from the closing hail and farewell of “I Did It All For You” Ephemeral doesn’t so much aim for peaks and valleys, corners, or any of the other traditional motifs of track arrangement. Instead, the record’s trick lies in Lemaire ensuring that he’s never settling in on nor abandoning any of the sonic styles we’ve been discussing: plate-spinning rather than course planning. It’s as good a ploy as any, and makes sure that while the record never feels repetitive, it doesn’t lose any of its unity, either. While the methods may be shuffled regularly on Ephemeral, the record never breaks its hold on the raw emotional nerve which has defined Mr.Kitty’s music from day one. Recommended.