Over the last 12 years, Kel McKeown, or Kelpe, has carved himself a unique perch in the UK's electronic underground. Across several full-lengths, EPs and remix projects, his misfit electronica has managed to cohere a staggeringly deep spectrum of influence along the way. A natural son and heir to Generation Warp and the fathers of Krautrock, his pioneering experiments in the early '00s also positioned him as one of many stylistic precursors to the arrival of LA's now-sprawling beat scene. Much like scene-savants Prefuse 73 and Dimlite, Kelpe has remained an enormously respected stalwart of the fringes, always dabbling variously in sample-heavy beat-craft, oddball ambient, and – more recently – dancefloor-ready club grub.
In 2013, he christened his newly-born imprint DRUT Recordings with 'Fourth: The Golden Eagle', its first feature- length. After seeing out releases from Chesslo Junior and 1000names, Kelpe returns to grace his still-young imprint with a second full-length: 'The Curved Line'. Like its celebrated predecessor, it's a record transfixed on tonality and texture – Korgs, Moogs and pocket pianos all feature heavily across the album's rich palette. The exciting sonic bursts of his last effort have evolved confidently and blown out into soaring progressions and flowing structures – all evidence of a tireless producer gunning to out-do himself.
Like its name suggests, 'The Curved Line' plays out in a tenderly considered arc – an album in which sun-swollen chords build up into sparring synths and bottom out into quietly frantic minimalism. Twinkling sound experiments follow confident club fare. The tracks range longer and wider than ever, advancing and building up loops to great heights before breaking them down again. On two of the album’s cuts live collaborator Chris Walmsley makes a return appearance on the drum kit, recorded by Stereolab’s Andy Ramsay at his Press Play Studios.
As ever, Kelpe presides over a delicate union of the electronic and the organic throughout. 'Chirpsichord' is a neat embodiment of the album's openers – a loping slice of soft bubbling arpeggios and shifting loops. 'Calumet' runs harder with the same themes – driving loops into a club headspace clapped with big drums and droning synths. The record pauses for breath here and there, shoehorning skittish sound experiments like 'Red Caps of Waves' and the delicately exotic 'Morning Two'. After tosses and surprise turns, the album finishes dramatically on 'Incantation' – a thumping beat workout followed by a deep and whirring coda that seems only achievable if you've been noodling with sound hardware for over a decade.
Ultimately, 'The Curved Line' is Kelpe's most urgent yet – a mature soundworld full of glowing club experiments, bounding chords and mellow interludes. There's more analogue synths, skittish surprises and white noise – and the signature warmth still remains in spades. All said and done, it's definitive Kelpe.
Published: 4th August 2015