Kevin Keller's Ice Worlds Echoes March CD of the Month
In a blindfold test, I’m not sure whether I would recognize this as a Kevin Keller album. Even though I’ve been listening to Keller across his eleven albums and side projects since his 1994 recording debut, The Mask of Memory, this album is a new world for the composer.
Keller started out making darkly-hued electronic music before moving into a sound that mixes electronics with orchestral instruments. It was for Keller that I first coined the term, Ambient Chamber Music, and that’s pretty been his modus operandi right up through his previous album, La Strada, an Echoes CD of the Month in 2015. That may have been the zenith of Keller’s Ambient Chamber Music sound.
But Ice Worlds is something different. Keller has jettisoned the acoustic instruments, unless you want to include an Olympia electric typewriter and a Bissell vacuum cleaner as acoustic, and dusted off the analog synthesizers. Classic machines like the Roland Juno-106, ARP 2600, Moog Modular and Roland TR-808 join an array of software synths in creating a sound world that harkens back to vintage electronic music from the seventies, especially Jean-Michel Jarre with a dollop of Vangelis. But Keller’s take on it is wholly 21st century.
Ice Worlds is full of drama, effervescence and a sonic vocabulary that sits outside even the broad musical palette this artist has explored over the last quarter century. In the process of thwarting expectations, Keller has made an uplifting album that avoids the saccharine tendencies that melodically-driven electronic albums often exhibit.
Keller’s ice worlds aren’t the frozen wastelands of Klaus Schulze’s Mirage, but new worlds, each full of sculptural designs, dramatic downhill slaloms and a sci-fi ambience, illustrated by the radio static and Forbidden Planet oscillations that begin “Ice World 5.” He goes beyond the clichés of your typical “ice” or winter music strategies, and even when he does resort to them, like the crackling ice sounds and bell-like synth melody of “Ice World 4,” he enlivens them, capturing the ice metaphor perfectly, often with timbres like those on “Ice World 2” that sound like frozen wine glasses being played like a vibraphone.
Keller has created some comic-style illustrations to promote the album that make it seem like a video-game, sci-fi romp, and there is a soundtrack aspect to the music, because Keller is also a soundtrack composer. Scenes of action movies will immediately leap to mind as you listen.
Kevin Keller’s Ice Worlds is a surprising change of direction for a veteran composer, who brings the arranging sensibilities of his classical world to this kinetic electronic music.
For me, I just keep nodding my head, tapping my feet and watching the scenes slide by as Keller cranks up the sequencers and layers-in his buoyant melodies. Slip into Kevin Keller’s Ice Worlds for a soundscape that will have your head skating in the air.
Read a review of Kevin Keller’s La Strada