London's Kel McKeown (a.k.a. Kelpe) has spent the last nine years making records that traverse the zones between woozy downtempo and intricately programmed nu-disco. Now a refugee of longtime home DC Recordings, 2012 has seen McKeown take up residence at Serbian outpost Svetlana Industries, for which he released I Felt Fuzzy and an accompanying remix EP earlier in the year. Jazzy and laced with drowsy cut-ups and irregular rhythms, I Felt Fuzzy was aptly titled, but its follow-up, Bags of Time, is a slightly different beast.
Although its tempos vary, Bags of Time is largely a more muscular transmission than its predecessor. This is owed to McKeown's persistent use of squiggly, buzzing synth lines, which modulate around rhythms that might otherwise seem unassuming. The exuberant title track opens the proceedings on stepping house kicks and rattling tin pans, and an initial organ melody is consumed by powerful synths. Frustratingly, the organ eventually seems to be forgotten entirely, as McKeown ends up focusing all of his energy on relentlessly tweaking the other elements. "Double Punt" is less active, moving with a slow, robotic strut. The producer filters in a dizzy but resonant organ line, and augments it with wobbling synth waves as stray, Radiophonic-esque tones ping off the corners. Neon Jung's remix of "Bags of Time" scarcely resembles the original. Dropped into a speedy, subby framework, McKeown's quasi-tropical percussive flourishes and buzzing lines are preserved for propping up fluttering, vertiginous melodies. It's easy to see why Neon Jung has collaborated with Lone and Nathan Fake, as his remix shares their propensity for colorfully bent, mind-reeling percolation. On sedate finale "City," McKeown once again deploys a humming undercurrent, but he counterbalances it with glimmering Italo-disco melodies, sending the record off in romantic fashion.
As YouTube videos of him jamming will attest, McKeown's music is the product of live sessions. However, apart from Neon Jung's sterling effort, Bags of Time is at its best when McKeown tones down the temptation to noodle. It may break with the synthetic-organic hybridization of prior Kelpe releases, but its sounds are finely wrought and generally flow seamlessly.