2015 is an interesting time to be an independent musician. The music platform Bandcamp was established in 2007, yet after it was popularized by Sufjan Stevens around 2010, it has become the staple website for anyone and everyone to post their music and to be discovered. Out of the sudden popularity of Bandcamp, a new wave of young musicians including Lil Ugly Mane, Frankie Cosmos and Saint Pepsi rose to indie success not only because of interesting music but because of it's accessibility at a pay-what-you want basis. Nowadays since almost everyone and their brother has released an album or EP on Bandcamp, it's much harder and more competitive to gain recognition on the site. More recently, many small record labels such as Double Double Whammy and Birdtapes have utilized this platform to help smaller unheard artists bring homebrewed music to indie-minded listeners.
Since then, New York-via-Toronto record label Orchid Tapes has been one of the most eclectic and consistent lo-fi focused record labels that have taken Bandcamp darlings such as Elvis Depressedly and Alex G out of the bedroom and into the indie spotlight. But now that the initial guitar based lo-fi craze has simmered down, more ambient and electronic oriented acts such as Foxes in Fiction and Ricky Eat Acid have been generating more buzz than their rock-focused counterparts. But lately, Melbourne-based act Katie Dey, who was discovered originally by soon-to-be labelmate Mat Cothran (Elvis Depressedly/Coma Cinema) via Tumblr, has released a debut record that beautifully bridges the gap between electronic and guitar based lo fi music.
Though the title of her album asdfasdf may seem like keyboard-mash, her music is anything but. The first track "don't be scared" begins with beautifully voiced acoustic guitar chords that set the stage like light beams bursting in yellows and pinks at sunset. Then suddenly a small, shaky and digital voice appears upon the track that sounds closer to a robot or a sprite rather than a human. The arrangements stay relatively tight until the halfway point where the instruments open up into a free-form exploration melody that sounds much larger than Dey's bedroom that she recorded it in.
Dey's vocals throughout the whole record are sweet but drenched in layers and layers of effects to the point where the lyrics are so indistinguishable that they act more like an instrument than a centerpiece. The angelic and innocent timbre of Katie Dey's vocals, along with their unconventional purpose, is highly reminiscent of Jonsi from Sigur Ros in the way they can convey emotion without speaking a word.
Though the record is only 7 tracks long and clocks in at just a tad over twenty minutes long the album ebbs and flows between minimal and spacious ambient pop sketches to claustrophobic and incredibly noisy lo-fi gems. One standout track titled "unkillable" may sound unlike anything on the album, but the pulsing punk-inspired drums mixed with the sugary sweet chord progression sounds more like a sparkly and obscured punk song rather than electronic experimentation. Even more slower rock-based songs such as "fear o the dark" are just as opaque and obscured as Katie Dey's vocals, yet entwined with enough pop sensibilities to still appeal to folks who aren't in love with the lo fi genre.
Where Katie Dey strides is in her ability to mix different elements of different genres in a unique and balanced way. Though Dey is an artist that puts a lot of focus into using digital elements, she does it in such a well-thought-out fashion that sounds more natural, organic and emotive than most electronic records. And on the flip-side, though the guitars are an essential part of this record, they are used sparingly enough to prove that a stringed instrument doesn't need to be the center of a pop record. Furthermore, Katie Dey has found a way to manipulate her voice so that mystery can still be present in an otherwise emotional album while still putting enough personality into her vocal style while not using lyrics or words to convey her emotions. Undoubtedly, because of her esoteric, challenging and beautiful style of lo-fi pop music Katie Dey is heads above her contemporaries and proves that there are true gems in the hundreds of thousands of albums posted on Bandcamp.
Out now on Orchid Tapes, asdfasdf by Katie Dey is Radio 1190's CD of the Month for July. Support the artist and donate a few dollars to download the album today: https://katiedey.bandcamp.com/releases