Although he never truly went away after delivering a handful of noteworthy releases in the early and mid aughts, one can't help but feel like Kelpe has blossomed a second time during the past year or so. Fourth: The Golden Eagle is as quality a record as Kelpe has ever made, and perhaps because it appears on his own newly inaugurated DRUT imprint, the London producer's latest LP makes for one of the most distinctive outings of his career.
Though Kelpe has evolved and followed a number of sonic paths over the years, at his core, he's always made beats. Lively and colorful beats, sure, but always electronic productions rooted in the rhythms and structures of instrumental hip-hop. Fourth: The Golden Eagle is no different in this sense; in some ways, it finds Kelpe building beats with a more straightforward approach than even his most recent output. Still, there is a distinction to be made: Kelpe is a pre-LA-beat-scene producer. The influence of artists like Flying Lotus and Teebs has certainly seeped into Kelpe's work in one way or another, but Fourth: The Golden Eagle is built on the groundwork laid by producers such as Prefuse 73, Dabrye, or Merck-era Machinedrum much more than that of the Brainfeeder clan. Still, this LP does not sound as if it were reaching toward a past heyday; rather, it sounds refreshing. The SoCal beat scene's tendency to squeeze its elements with heavy-handed compression is drastically peeled back, and a vibrant, open, and enjoyably bright sonic palette is revealed. Kelpe manages to tuck a wide array of understated elements into his productions too, though rarely to excess—every record rub, spurt of noise, miniature synth bleep, and hit of distant-room percussion has a purpose and is presented with pristine sonic detail.
A major focus on Fourth: The Golden Eagle is Kelpe's exceptional synth work. Whether it be rich analog chords, spiralling leads, or prickly synth FX, Kelpe melds together a truly rich assemblage of analog tones across the entire LP. Songs like "Beaks of Eagles" (a particularly Prefuse-reminiscent cut), "Nice Eyes in My Size," and "Outwhere" use keyboard layers to create gliding beds which lay just behind the crisp percussion and orchestrated layers of chopped samples, while "Go Visible" and "Single Stripe" bring their bleeps and bloops to the forefront, bending and twisting restless synth leads in patterns that are rewardingly unpredictable.
Kelpe is a veteran producer, and on Fourth: The Golden Eagle, he strikes the kind of smart balance that comes from years of experience, deftly varying the individual songs while still making a record that is cohesive as a whole. Almost a decade after debuting, Kelpe's ideas are somehow still fresh and clearly benefitting from a production ability that has been well honed over time.