In the space of just four years, Katie Kim, aka Katie Sullivan, has gone from softly whispered insistences of songwriting quality, to a full-length album that grabs and twists the listener’s earlobe to follow unquestioning; offering nine tracks of philosophically cold beauty and nakedly fierce emotion. Salt, the Waterford native’s latest effort, doesn’t so much extend to the listener an olive branch of aural significance, as lasso the senses and ensnare the listener within a writhing, droning, and living record that is grounded, uncomplicated, but also inherently low-pressure.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its release date, there’s an autumnal thread that dangles from opening track ‘Ghosts’ – a heavy-handed, yet ethereal, percussive thump of a song – and finds its closing knot in the atmospherically-charged ‘Wide Hand’, the whole time weaving in and out of tracks, evoking the retro-electronics of Tears For Fears, the furrowed theatrics of Kate Bush, and sourcing trace elements of musique concrète. But Salt is unquestionably a Katie Kim album despite any influences she may have taken, not so far removed from Cover and Flood, but propelled further along a compelling, fresh thematic trajectory.
What the album invariably lacks in variety, it makes up for in doing one thing exceptionally well – mood is central to the expansive drone that Salt explores, and it’s Kim’s voice that sets itself apart from the chordal progressions heard throughout, often inflecting tracks, ‘Day Is Coming’ for example, with unexpected tonal shifts; extending guitar or piano lines to grow and form mid-sections with depth and overwhelming melancholy (the best kind of melancholy, really).
It’s this consistent, taut bittersweetness though that makes moving through Salt at times a difficult prospect, and while Kim’s technical ability is for the most part the hero at the centre of the piece, the record is occasionally so steeped in swathes of thick, grey ink that it becomes unnecessarily challenging – imagine, if you will, had Lana Del Rey and Radiohead recorded Amnesiac as a joint project.
Salt is nonetheless an extraordinary example of an album that works by creating cascading layers of stirring ambience, despite those layers being far from resplendent. It’s executed with enviable skill, produced and mixed to the highest of standards, beautifully arranged and as an addition to Kim’s canon, Salt is anything but arbitrary. There’s exceptional musical aptitude to be found in and amongst its forty-odd minutes of play, and whether or not that listening time frame is kind to your own mood, really depends on how you want to feel.