Kye Kye – Fantasize [Advance Review]

In June, I received a kind thank-you e-mail from Kye Kye. What I didn’t expect was a link to the new album! All of a sudden, I was the elated recipient of a sneak preview of Kye Kye’s new LP Fantasize — months prior to the release. Because Kye Kye have recently been navigating some tough choices in how to release this album and whether to do it independently or on a certain label, the release date has been postponed to January.

For a music journalist and strong appreciator of Kye Kye’s work, it was a great birthday present (Okay, so their manager didn’t know it was the week of my birthday, but it sure seemed like he had done his research.)

If you don’t know Kye Kye, you might like to read my interview from early 2011. Originating from Eastern Europe, their family moved to Camas, WA, where the three siblings (Olga, Tim, and Alex) began producing music. Olga’s fiance Tommy (now her husband) joined the band to play drums. Kye Kye produce an interesting mix of electronica-infused pop, doing it with both live instruments and programming. They’ve has put out one album, Young Love, and the three siblings put one out prior to that, under the name Paper Rings.

photo by Vanessa Weber
photo by Vanessa Weber

I’ve given Fantasize multiple listens, and it’s clear Kye Kye have worked tirelessly on this new full-length. The band have been quoted calling it a “labour of love”; that’s more than clear – it’s meticulously produced.

I must give you one spoiler alert: it’s pretty different from Young Love. Don’t go into this album expecting more of the same.

The opening chord of Fantasize takes me back to the first time I saw Kye Kye live. These first notes had the same effect on me as in that concert. I stopped breathing. The timbres swirled around me for a moment and then everything became normal again. Pretty mystifying.

This new album Fantasize is something special. And it’s fun.

This album is not only an important step in the evolution of Kye Kye, but I believe it stands out in its genre. The original creativity in this album is astonishing, and I’m sure Kye Kye have drawn influences from atypical sources for the electro-pop genre.

Every instrument on this album has been treated. I noticed the drums first, washed in reverb, while not being at all overbearing or heavy-handed. Olga’s voice, too, has a very glossy, floating feel to it, while remaining front and centre in the mix. A prime example of this is in the middle of “Softly”.

photo from www.kyekyemusic.com
photo from http://www.kyekyemusic.com

What makes this album so different from Kye Kye’s previous work? There’s been an evolution in at least three regards: first, the drums are central to this record. Both real instruments and electronic drum kits have been used. Brilliant stick work and drum programming have created some very tight grooves that enhance the rest of the instrumentation. While Young Love had a great texture to it, Fantasize feels more solid – and that’s a good thing. Second, this album relies less on loops and is driven by bass and beats. It features more instruments in general: synths, horns, percussion, electric guitar, bass, and a multitude of virtual instruments and loops. The guitar, which does not feature strongly on previous album Young Love, are exceptional. Third, Olga’s melodies reveal an increased confidence in exploration. Throughout the album, especially on tracks like “Dreams (2am)” and “Fantasize”, her creative use of timing and intervals brings a freshness and melodic leadership to the music. “Seasons” — and its interlude afterwards — would have been entirely out of place on Young Love, but is a fitting inclusion on Fantasize, and transitions masterfully into “Softly”.

Kye Kye have picked from multiple decades in regards to their influences on this album. “People” and “Softly” throw back to the 80’s. I can’t help but imagine, half-jokingly, that Kye Kye took some production cues from bands like Toto. After all, “Africa” enjoyed a momentary resurgence of stardom last summer.

True to her form, Olga is not afraid to be soul-baringly reflective in her lyrics. “I never knew that I was so harsh with things I thought I wasn’t afraid of. I never knew that I was so scared to change because of honest affection”, she sings on “Honest Affection”. She possesses a real strength of narrating through lyrics, though her tendency to under-enunciate, combined with the effects of reverb, can make it a challenge to pick out exactly what she is saying at times. Nonetheless, the production on her voice is magnificent.

Meticulously produced, this is a very strong release from Kye Kye. It’s exceptionally powerful musically and sets the bar for original creativity very high.

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