- The visual artist's first LP is an incomplete but delightfully strange waltz through classical and experimental forms.
- Jesse Kanda isn't just an artist who makes images. He's a worldbuilder. This process of constructing an imaginary world is usually associated with video game designers, science-fiction writers and Dungeons & Dragons players. Kanda's characters, however, have slipped and stretched across the album covers and music videos of Arca, FKA twigs and Björk. Some have bloated limbs and gelatin torsos, akin to Dali's goopier years (The Great Masturbator and Soft Construction With Boiled Beans). They are sensory mutants, with new organs sprouting from their faces or feet, like the hyper-evolved wildlife of Annihilation or the anime Shin Sekai Yori. Kanda's computer-generated creations burst with complexity, and are usually presented as close-ups or on solid backgrounds. These creatures occupy a world of sound.
Kanda's 2017 debut EP, Heart, and its 2018 follow-up, Luna, were released under his musical alias, Doon Kanda. The most memorable tracks from these albums, including "Luna" and "Axolotl," would feel just as familiar slipped into the soundtrack of Final Fantasy as they would in a club set. The video for "Axolotl" is a slow pan of an albino anaconda giving birth, bathed in post-natal fluids. The visual for "Luna" is a computer-rendered still of two bodies with human heads, torsos, chicken legs and claws. When asked about whether his creative process changes between his visual practice and his music project, Kanda responded, "It doesn't! Only different tools."
The opening track on Labyrinth, Kanda's first album, refers to "the condition of having more than one head," a fitting reference for an artist dealing with myth and mutants. The song is a grand waltz in minor chords, an icy piano melody amped up to fortissimo. Within its melodic layers lie most of the elements that are broken down and explored in later tracks. The 3/4 time signature, characteristic of waltz, structures much of the album.
"Dio" and "Gut" continue the spookier, more electronic elements heard on "Polycephaly." Using so many similar elements at the front of the album is a narrative device, like a repeating theme in a film score. (Around the middle of the album, a friend walked in and asked if I was listening to a remix of the Game Of Thrones' theme.) But it's almost too predictable, especially when presented alongside the chaotic beings we're introduced to in Kanda's visual art (the album comes with a ten-page art booklet).
It's the bookending tracks—"Polycephaly" and "Entrance"—that feel the most complete. They are both built as orchestral pieces and sound like different movements of a symphony. The album as a whole is accomplished, but it still hasn't entirely caught up with the precision of his visual multiverse. Still, I am glad that Labyrinth offers another glimpse of Kanda's alternate realities.