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Lokai: "Transition"

img  Tobias

Is it just the heat of Summer that makes „Transition“ sound this warm? Its inner radiation certainly seems like a musical postcard from Vienna. Just as on many of Florian Kmet and Stefan Németh's previous projects, the Austrian capital has once again formed the creative backbone of and inspirational backdrop to the new Lokai full-length. Nothing appears strained or forced here: You can almost visualise the musicians leaving the studio for the Kaffeehaus around the corner, relaxing on red cushions, sipping on black coffee and downing a Schnaps before returning to their instruments. And yet, this album did not want to be taken for granted. Ages have passed since their „7 Million“ debut, which stood out from the Post-Post-Rock community by reaching out beyond the borders of the scene and yet coming at just the right size to fit into everyone's heart. In the years that lay in betwen, their ways had parted. New experiences had been made, resulting in new friendships and different perspectives. When Németh published a widely acclaimed solo record in 2008, the future of the duo was anybody's guess.

If „Transition“ does pick up the telepathic communication channels of its predecessor after all, then this can, somewhat paradoxically, be attributed to an exactly defined, systematic compositional approach. There were to be no deadlines and a lot of freedom for experiments. Recording an album was to be a necessity  rather than a routine. And by realising it in Kmet's former apartment and taking on production duties themselves, they effectively liberated themselves from external pressure. The slow pulse and unhurried breath running through all tracks is testimony to this philosophy and occasionally makes them sound like beautiful rehearsals. Unlike with many other experimental efforts, the incessant need to produce sounds is notably absent here: Lokai appear to be switching instruments in real time, preferring to carefully deliberate their next move rather than recklessly rushing in. As a consequence, the music feeds just as much from what is played as from all-but inaudible spatial factors picked up by kirlian microphones like ghost traces.

At the same time, Kmet and Németh were driven by an inner urge to return to the potential of acoustic instruments. Building rapport with tradition was essential to them after their deep forrays into the labyrinthine land of electronica. On „Transition“, then, these two worlds are presented as equals and as complementary forces. Guitar, Glockenspiel and Acoustic Bass place pieces in the key of Folk, while an Accordion conjures up needly overtones in one moment and deep, melancholy textures the next. Snippeted samples are patterned into microtonally ticking rhythms and jazzy grooves, which all but imperceptibly build from cautious beginnings. Silently and subtly, melodies take on anthemic character, even though they disappear just as quickly right when you start noticing them. The sensation of a discreet, quiet and floating sound is reinforced by the dream-logic of the arrangements: Many musical elements, for example, make an appearance at different stages of a track, even though they never return at quite the same place or in exactly the same way. By furthermore bracketing the body of the record with two different version of „Roads“, the prevalent sensation is one of experiencing an immersive trip through a unique world of tone and colour, where a mere cough could cause the entire carefully constructed house of cards to collapse.

There is a Zen-like tranquility to the action, without it ever settling on a predictable path. Moods change quickly and range from ambient ambiances to hypnotic propulsion and a short outbreak of noise in the aptly titled „Bruit“. With its nocturnal cascades of Rhodes licks, gently stroked cymbals, minor key atmospheres and subcutaneous forwards drive, meanwhile, dark and erotic „Volver“ may well be the most representative piece of the collection, summing up both its carefree attitude as well as its insistence on only making use of what's truly essential.

Lokai were right in claiming that going back to basic elements was vital. Loosing yourself in details can be a wonderful thing at times, but it can also mean that you're surrendering to the illusion of progress. „Transition“, meanwhile, manages to sound equally familiar and exciting. With its integrative tendencies, it has turned into an album all friends of experimental music may be able to agree on this year. And it is certainly not just the Summer which makes it feel this warm.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lokai
Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records

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