A musician trying to define him or herself can be an endless struggle that can span over myriads of genres and exhausting years of work. Not only is the effort put into it possibly fruitless, but musicians can risk sacrificing a fan base out of their own self-indulgence, even if such gratification stems from a place of honesty and musical integrity. This being so, the music of Minneapolis, Minnesota’s, Kyle Y., now currently known as Smoke Room, is that much more prolific.
The earliest of Kyle’s musical endeavors have touched on anywhere from black metal, lo-fi synth pop, textural ambient guitar works, harsh post-punk and more, with each genre change becoming more complex and drawing more attention.
Just last year, Kyle released an album entitled Octagon under his previous project, Young Henry. It was under this project that Kyle dismissed all aforementioned genres and began experimenting with sample based music, that at times, uniquely focused on Korean and Japanese Pop. This distinct approach would continue to appear in the music of Smoke Room as well.
The samples were reformatted in such a way as to appeal to both the modern tier of electronic beat producers and those already obsessed with the peculiar pop music that Kyle’s music derived from. Octagon was either the most obsessively demented mixtape of foreign pop music ever, or one of the mostly oddly personal and experimental electronic albums to be produced for the vast uncaring wasteland of the underground digital music scene in recent years.
Despite Octagon’s relatively little recognition, its approach was undoubtedly ahead of it’s time due to the now current Pitchfork certified trend of Korean pop, or “Korean-wave.” Many artists now in general borrow heavily from Eastern pop, relying on this “unique” aesthetic, yet showing little substance. Kyle has always remained tasteful. It was after Octagon that Kyle soon changed his name to Smoke Room to create a more dynamic dimension to his music.
Although Kyle’s fascination with foreign pop music continued during this name change (he remixed Korean artists such as After School and GD&Top, and produced two chopped and screwed K-Pop mixtapes), his first official full length, Caramelism, is a bold statement of stepping away from that musical mindset and demonstrating distance from any past endeavors.
Due to the influence of the Low End Theory scene and the all too homogeneous sound of computer based beatmaking, it seems as if most percussive music is oversimplified and simply called a “beat,” a notion that is far too discrediting to many electronic musicians.
That being said, Caramelism is not a beat album. Dissecting the pieces of Caramelism, we see under the surface and the influence that is truly there. Caramelism utilizes the dismal percussive elements of Burial, the meditative electronics of Itsuqi Doi and the obtuse, metallic neo-pop sampling of Seiho.
The ballad-like, “Koala,” is especially a highlight of the album and demonstrates Kyle’s sensibility as a songwriter. It is the only track to contain decipherable vocals by him. The words echo throughout, “the fact alone that you’re a secret makes this romance a secret.” The song can be likened to the romantic qualities of Jamie Woon, the oddball charisma of James Blake, or perhaps even the crooning of Amnesiac-era Thom Yorke. Its moments like this that show a startling amount of humanity in an electronic album.
Caramelism is not so much just an album as it is a testament to Kyle’s entire young musical career, which is why it is perhaps just as important to analyze the eclectic nature of Kyle’s entire musical body when speaking of Smoke Room and Caramelism.
Kyle has absolutely no struggle in defining himself as a musician. If anything, he struggles to settle down. His approach is not so much anxious as it is trying to hone in on personal perfection. Perhaps Caramelism really can be categorized, though the music and identity of Kyle Y. cannot.
Already it seems as if Smoke Room is no more, and there is to be another name change soon (Uio Loi) as dictated by his SoundCloud. Whatever is to come in the future with Kyle’s music, it is sure to be different, yet relative, personal and definitive. Caramelism may be the last of this particular body of work, but it is sure to leave an impressionable and influential mark on those who have experienced it.
Smoke Room – 539A
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