It seems Kelvin McKeown, AKA Kelpe, has been busy at work these past two years. 2013 saw the release of his fourth studio album, aptly titled Fourth: The Golden Eagle; it was his most ambitious and lavishly produced release to date and a personal favourite from that year; exciting so to have another full length so soon afterwards.
The most obvious thing that stands out on first listen is how rhythmically different The Curved Line is from any of Kelpe’s previous releases. The drum programming still showcases his skill for complex, interlocking rhythms but where previous albums like Ex-Aquarium and Cambio Wechsel employ live drums and sampled breaks, this latest release sees Kelpe opting for a more programmed, electronic sound. The main exceptions here are ‘Sick Lickle Thing’ and ‘Canjealous’ where collaborator Chris Walmsley’s lo-fi, live drumming adds slick snare and tom rolls over a solid four-to-the-floor stomp.
The steady pulse of the bass drum is something that would never have previously come to mind when describing a Kelpe album, yet on The Curved Line there is a definite shift towards more dance-centric, steady beats. ‘Calumet’ features percussive improvisation and 808 style drum samples against a thumping bass kick and ‘Drums for Special Effects’ begins with tribal percussion before giving way to soft organ tones and then totally transforming half-way through when a monster of a bass synth hints briefly at what might be a floor-filling techno track. This is all before it melts away into waves of subdued piano and resonant synth echoes.
Despite this shift in rhythmic style, McKeown’s trademark flair for bouncing bass lines, concordant harmonies and memorable melodies is still on show throughout the album. The opening track ‘Doubles of Everything’ employs a lazy hip-hop beat that slinks along beneath a dark, ambient soundscape before a wash of fuzzy, warm synth pads take over half way through. ‘Sick Lickle Thing’ sparkles with a delicate staccato and ‘Morning Two’ takes a trip through a tranquil rainforest ambience filled with exotic samples and lush textures.
The 303, square bass-line of ‘Incantation’ and the madcap randomness of ‘Caps of Waves’ show another side to the producer, almost reminiscent of early Aphex, but there’s still something undeniably Kelpe that permeates each track on this album. Although possibly not as wholly coherent as some of his earlier outings, The Curved Line still proves how imaginative and versatile this producer, sound designer and musician really is.