The ambient pop of this Kid Koala album might come as a shock to those who still see the Canadian musician as a mischievous scratch DJ. While there may be turntables somewhere on this recording, those techniques take a backseat to droning synthesizer washes and reverb-drenched piano chords. There are barely any beats, and for the first time in his career, many of the tracks feature guest vocals, courtesy of Icelandic singer/songwriter Emilíana Torrini.
This minimalist, meditative approach grew out of Kid Koala’s Music To Draw To events in Montreal and other cities, at which he plays mellow ambient music as attendees draw, knit or work quietly on other projects. Within that context, the new material makes perfect sense, despite being a significant departure from much of his previous recorded work.
Satellite’s lyrics recount a love story that is complicated by a one-way mission to Mars, but it’s easy to ignore that whimsy and just let the relaxing tones and drifting melodies wash over you. Torrini’s delicately whispered vocals help give the album some pop structure, providing a counterpoint to the pulsing drones and shimmering textures.
The instrumental tracks often feel more like sketches of ideas than proper songs, which isn’t a problem in an ambient recording. Those interludes also make the vocals pop out more when they do appear, adding surprising dynamics to an otherwise sparse recording.
Despite his experimental tendencies, Kid Koala’s sentimental side is still at the forefront of the album. At times, that can verge on sappy, which makes the weirder moments essential as a balance. Satellite feels very much like a transitional record in which Kid Koala is exploring new terrain. Not all of his tangents are successful, but his enthusiasm for stretching beyond his turntablist roots is refreshing.
Top track: Adrift
Kid Koala plays the Rivoli January 26-28. See listing.