The third long-player from UK duo Mount Kimbie is an electrifying reinvention. But Kai Campos and Dominic Maker have always been adept at shifting shape. While their first few EPs on Scuba’s Hotflush label — 2009’s Maybes and Sketch On Glass — saw them grouped with the nebulous post-dubstep scene, by the arrival of their debut album, 2010’s Crooks and Lovers, they were already moving on, blending field recordings and samples with warm bass, electronic melodies, and fragmented beats.
2013’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth on Warp had them sounding like a new band. Gone were the broken rhythms and garage touches. In their place was a questing experimentalism populated by live instrumentation, Campos’ vocals, and splashes of everything from techno to jazz, plus the compellingly odd wordplay of rapper/songwriter/associate King Krule. On Love What Survives, they’re recognisable as the same outfit, though their dance music past has been for the most part erased and replaced by a loose, raw post-punk edge, with distorted guitar, bass and drums amid all manner of other intriguing reverberations.
Alarm bells often ring when electronic dance acts reinvent themselves as a live band. Implicit is the suggestion that they can only make "real" music with "real" instruments. But that’s not the case with Mount Kimbie. Their musical evolution comes from an authentic place, and a desire to experiment. This is borne out to astonishing effect on Love What Survives.
The instrumental "SP12 Beat" ripples with overdriven African thumb pianos and undulating dub bass, before accelerating into doomy post-rock. "Four Years and One Day" throbs and pulsates with detuned analogu synths, as dusty ride cymbals usher in crepuscular bass guitar. A current listening diet of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and the gothic end of post-punk in general seems likely.
King Krule returns on "Blue Train Lines," contributing disturbing lines in his distinctive sung rap style over an emotive collision of synth noise and organic instruments. Elsewhere, the delicate, meandering "Marilyn" features leftfield musical dreamer and friend Micachu. Her vocals mix with those of Kai’s and a tinkling backdrop of thumb piano, melodica, horns, and inviting bass to create a gorgeous agglomeration beyond genre. The best song of all, "You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure)," is a serrated krautrock piece adorned by the vocals of Andrea Valency, with more than a nod to Stereolab and Broadcast. The interplay between the shimmering electronics and guitar noise is blissful.
Another friend and frequent collaborator, James Blake, appears on two tracks. Like Mount Kimbie, Blake came to fame in the post-dubstep era but quickly shed his skin to craft a singular and weird form of electronic R&B. His doleful tones make a lot of sense on the funereal organ and found sound percussion of "We Go Home Together," while on the spectral, spine-tingling "How We Got By," sinister low-end tones combine with abstract piano and a shivery performance from the singer. On the same track, a rhythm resembling a trapped bird beating its wings in a box is another, subtle indication of the gothic spectre that haunts this record.
On Love What Survives, Mount Kimbie have emerged from their chrysalis to become something new altogether. Some might be disappointed that, for now, they’ve moved further away from dance music. But in the process, they’ve made a bewitching kind of music that’s uniquely their own.