Album Review: Alm – Taylor Kohl


[LISTEN]       [WATCH]        [Released March 27, 2014] [Genre: experimental/chiptune/shoegaze/pop]

My introduction to Mr. Kohl was a little unusual, at least for my typical foraging patterns into the blackest corners of the Internet (I digress, but I really do love that depressive Norwegian stuff). I was in the middle of playing a song from the Japanese port of Mother 2 for my 8-bit show, when I received a call from a particularly ecstatic video game enthusiast.

He said that my playlist took him back to his early childhood, but, he insisted, he wasn’t calling just to reminisce on those rose-tinted, snapback hat, scooter-riding summers of the 90s.

Taylor Kohl’s recent album, Alm, was apparently this guy’s 8-bitized bread and butter. By far the most JRPG-sounding song on the album, he suggested I play “Doom Internalized.”

As soon as the cute, bouncy synths began in tandem with the crackly drum machine, my mind’s eye saw a red-clad avatar marching along a field of pixelated green, in search of epic, albeit tedious, dungeon-crawling adventures.

I found myself feeling quite giddy as I sat with closed eyes grinning and spinning around in my rollie chair, enjoying the fantasy as if the past ten years of steady conditioning to adult reality had never occurred.

This sort of waking dream state continued, even as the drum machine broke into a series of complex syncopated rhythms and polyphonic synth noodlings, which were so charmingly outlandish that I later described it to a friend as sounding like a giant battle rabbit loping slowly but inevitably toward you—kind of adorable and terrifying at the same time, like something out of a Cyriak video.

When the rhythm transitioned to half-time for more of a two-step feel, this “adorable and terrifying” vibe became only more pronounced. Fans of Flying Lotus and Animal Collective might recognize and have more words for the particular sound I’m describing. But just when it sounded like the song was about to slow down into anti-rhythm, suddenly the battle rabbit came hopping back for one last fate-altering fight with the red-clad hero before admitting defeat with a high-pitched synth squeal.

In short, Mr. Kohl is an exceptionally articulate sonic storyteller. By mapping intricate dynamics into an over-arching narrative, heseems to invite listeners to imagine their own worlds existing within the bizarre Wonderland he’s made through his music.

Ether being the element that runs strongest throughout the rest of Alm, the new album is a truly cosmic journey laced with themes of death and decay, stasis and stagnation, life and love and light. The lyrics, deeply brooding and existential in nature, help to convey the paradoxically wandering yet purposeful tone of his music. Each song flows seamlessly from one melodic idea to another, as each comprises an unending cycle of introduction, elaboration and resolution that are often surprising but never jarring in nature. Echo-laced harmonies fly to otherworldly registers while synths and drums take on decidedly robotic precision. Utilizing the added nostalgia-fueled joy of 8-bit sounds, Mr. Kohl accomplishes nothing short of a testament to the limitless potential of homemade electronica with Alm.

by Thom Stone