The Curved Line is the fifth studio album from Kel Mckeown, otherwise known as Kelpe, released on his own label DRUT. Previously unfamiliar to his music I was eager to listen to the record, comparisons having been drawn between his brand of ambient, hip-hop infused compositions and those of Four Tet and Prefuse 73. Technically, I should not have been disappointed. All the promised elements were provided, elements that suggested a set of tracks bound to please – lush chords from the Korgs and Moogs that McKeown has stayed faithful to; taut yet accessible drums; the kind of peculiar wibbles and wobbles that reveal just how comfortable the producer is with hardware. However, despite all this, somehow McKeown doesn’t deliver the goods, and what, on paper, appears to be the perfect album leaves me unsatisfied.
‘Chirpsichord’ starts promisingly – all watery arpeggios and breathy samples. However I am jarred by the awkward chord progression, and a sense of melodic discomfort starts to develop that prevails throughout the record. The warmth of the analogue synths and live drums, and the subtle layering of ‘Sick Lickle Thing’ is almost satisfying, but, again, the chords don’t progress in the way I want them to, squandering all the other well crafted components and leaving me slightly irritated. Likewise ‘Valerian’ is ruined by the irksome countermelody which enters in the second half of the track; so extraneous that it conjures up the impression of a jam session that’s not going to plan – the guy on the synth just not getting it and going west. I almost feel like McKeown is trying too hard not to conform to using chord patterns and melodies that are too obvious, and while you can admire this desire for originality, it’s not really working.
Thankfully, the latter part of the album is more rewarding. In ‘Drum for Special Effects’, Kelpe gets it right. While we have three quite contrasting sections, they all make sense with and compliment eachother, and there is still a sense of linear development from the hollow, four to the floor drums, to the dreamy, distorted piano loop which ends the piece. Played in the right club, at the right time of the morning, I can imagine this track having real effect. In addition, the squelchy, slippery timbres and chirruping bird sample of ‘Morning Two’ show off McKeown’s playful side, and this track leaves me with a smile on my face.
Indeed, The Curved Line is a fine example of eccentric, masterful production. Kelpe has dared to experiment with unsettling timbres and brave progressions, but unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit the spot.