On Kairos, we find White Hinterland exploring the edges of minimal pop, accomplishing a delicate but lively seduction through deep, patient bass throbs, prismatic synth textures, and direct, intimate songs sung with an empowered gravitas. Here Casey Dienel tailors the acrobatics of her former songwriting into a slender focus, folding it into deeper grooves. Beneath the baroque arrangements and intellectual lean of Dienel’s previous musical efforts was a sexiness that Kairos exposes, showing the artist for what she is: powerful and comfortable in her own skin, with a glittery voice weaned on pop R&B. With a sound so modern, so contemporary, Kairos fixes White Hinterland’s gaze firmly on the future.
Kairos was written after Dienel and band-mate Shawn Creeden relocated to Portland, Oregon from Boston and Brooklyn, respectively. There, without regular access to a piano, the centerpiece of previous White Hinterland recordings, Dienel’s writing process took on an innovative new shape. Soon she and Creeden delved excitedly into a new practice of collaboration centered around live looping, electronic and acoustic percussion, and kaleidoscopic sound, all providing a shimmery underpinning to intricate layers of Dienel’s voice.
Conceived over several months in co-producer Alexis Gideon’s Liophant home studio, this is the first White Hinterland album truly made by a band, not just played by one. Using just one mic, electronics, programming and an arsenal of percussion and instruments, the minimal, washy “Art & B” of Kairos was born. The songs here were first imagined as a series of singles, but they soon took on the cohesive shape of an album jammed with singles from start to finish. Dienel compared making Kairos to swimming in a cave, trusting only the instinct to just keep swimming. This image perfectly embodies the enchanting and blue-lit atmosphere of the album.
Sean Michaels of Said the Gramophone captured it well, after he witnessed a White Hinterland performance where they performed the bulk of Kairos live:
“The jazz has been taken out, simply removed. And what is left is so, so, so much space; so much space in which she and Shawn add dark beats, deep bass, dubstep stuff. And she sings in looped curlicues, ivies and gold rings, sampling and re-sampling. They were all new songs and they were utterly astonishing. Here are some names of things it was & wasn’t merely: the dirty projectors, the xx, burial, tune-yards, school of seven bells, the neptunes, thom yorke, arthur russell, giovanni pierluigi da palestrina. Any half-samples so far do it no credit at all. What a rediscovery.”