- The Book Room is "a fairytale, an imaginary place shaped by exotic cultures." It's also a musical diary: a collection of 20 tracks that the Swiss producer Benjamin Kilchhofer has called a "library of emotions." The two mean different things. One is an encounter with an "other," an escape into unknown or invented worlds, calling to mind other recent worldbuilding efforts by the likes of RAMZi, Don't DJ and Andrew Pekler. The other is an encounter with the self, drawing on a longer (and currently less cool) tradition of introspective bedroom electronica.
Kilchhofer's debut album is caught intriguingly between the two. On the one hand it's a kind of "environmental music," a humid, birdsong-drenched exotica full of fluid hand drums and kalimba-like arpeggios. Some tracks, like "Karon" and "Vran," could be Alan Lomax-style field recordings of alien folk music. On the other hand it's sepia toned and melancholic. "Nihic" is hissy and heavy with nostalgia. The twinkling "Uhta" could almost be by '00s folktronica duo The Books.
The music mostly has both qualities at once, which is what makes it distinctive. If you're accustomed to Fourth World reboots then you'll find The Book Room unusually pretty, and prone to drifting into gentle ambient. (Gorgeous miniatures like "Anzu," "Chogal" and "Tusk" could loop on way longer than they do.) In the electronica stakes, meanwhile, Kilchhofer's deft modular synth arrangements, with their physically modelled sounds, give the music a vivid contemporary flavour. The album's best tracks are full of lilting rhythm and clever melody, building effectively on the sound of his previous EPs. "Varen" and "Lubbari" are particularly great, as is "Hedha," with its flickering lead lines.
These are highlights on an album that, over 20 tracks and 74 minutes, can otherwise be difficult to navigate. Kilchhofer's last solo release, the Dersu EP, also felt pretty weighty for what it was. Again, the length could serve deeper immersion in a parallel world, or it could reflect twists and turns in Kilchhofer's emotional state. The disorientation also heightens the album's occasional curveballs, like the hippy drone-outs of "Leng" and "Topot," where Kilchhofer's sweet world takes on a darker acid-fried dimension.