The first album from Kim Brown, the duo of Julian Braun and Ji-Hun Kim, was a subtle kind of success story. A house LP in a staunchly conventional mould, ‘Somewhere Else It’s Going To Be Good’ surveyed familiar terrain with a tenderness and warmth that made for a surprisingly involving listen. Their melodies were glossy with the unashamed beauty of early Kompakt, and there was always a fresh detail or melodic twist that rewarded deeper listening. It was an album to turn on and tune in.
Part of the reason that their debut was so impressive was how elegantly it sidestepped the common pitfalls of the genre. Often this brand of indie-leaning electronica comes off as wispy and offers little in the way of variation. Frustratingly, the accusations that their debut shirked magnificently haunt their sophomore album, Wisdom Is A Dancer.
There’s no denying that this is music made with a lot of love. The pair’s fondness for sweeping strings and affecting piano melodies goes straight for the emotional jugular, eloquent of longing and bittersweet memories in a way few contemporaries match. Yet while these traits were once twinned with complex gravelly basslines and an impressive range of style, the focus of this record is too narrow and as a result its tracks lack definition.
The formula they present is strong at first. Opener Rehearsed Engineering is a gorgeous taster, a field of light clicks caressed by subtle, lacquered melodies that float gracefully atop thick organ chords. Optionism drifts over a muted landscape, its soft keys like clouds, a dose of tension added by crisp handclaps. But it’s here that the formula starts to wear thin. Everything But A Piano deals in strings and keys of identical timbre and affect, its polite bassline adding little grit. Millions suffers from its similarity, a beautiful piano line losing its power because of the arrangement’s lack of distinction.
And so on. Trinity College has a stronger kick but remains somewhat genteel and by penultimate track We Are Elementary you’re hearing nothing you haven’t heard before. There are slight derivations from the formula, such as the hip hop beat of closer Datasette (Vogue As A Concept) or the shimmering ambience and bass growl of Unperfect Circles, but they stay resolutely within the album’s hermetic mood.
In the middle of all this is Transparent. At first the track favours the same blue chords, but a set of tough ricocheting toms ramp up the tension to unfamiliar levels. The melodies take on an unsettling density, a flash of the innovation Kim Brown mined from their sound palette on their first album. It cuts an odd figure, a single track that nails what made so many fall for them in the first place. Wisdom Is A Dancer is a perfectly pleasant album, and its tracks are often gorgeous when heard individually. But as a whole the lines blur and the formula tires. It’s always wise to avoid replicating a debut album, but it seems Kim Brown have polished one aspect of their last LP and abandoned the others.