Persona by Lost in KievRelease date: April 26, 2019
Label: Pelagic Records
A couple of years ago I ventured over to Belgium for the first time, to experience what to many is the Mecca of post rock- Dunk! Festival.
Most of the people I know that head to music festivals- whether they may be mainstream, world-renowned events like Glastonbury, or more intimate like Dunk! -are content to just check out the line-up, tick off the ‘must see’ artists and bands, have a cursory glance at the clash-finder, and then spend 3-4 days knee-deep in (delete as appropriate) mud/cider/lager/LSD/sleeplessness. That doesn’t work for me…apart from the lager.
I like to spend probably a silly amount of time researching the line-up and planning my viewing route throughout each day. This has everything to do with me being an obsessive completist and not a huge amount to do with being a music writer. With Dunk! there are 2 stages and no clashes so the only decisions that need to be made are who to miss part of for food. However, I like to have at least a basic understanding of who I am about to see as they walk on stage (and that important sense of anticipation) so will spend quite a bit of time with each band’s back catalogue, if I don’t know of them already.
And if ever I needed vindication that all this research (Dunk!2019 preparation is well underway) is immensely worth it, then it is my (thoroughly late, I am ashamed to say) discovery of Lost in Kiev in around April 2017, prior to their spectacular, spine-tingling performance at Dunk! the following month. The Paris based four-piece, who are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, released their second album Nuit Noire the previous September, and this was the album I spent significant time with. As with debut Motions in 2012, it delivered a concept. Of night, of dreams, of loneliness and obsessions, it was a record melodically grounded in post metal, but which took on a vivid, compelling aura through its expert juxtaposition of self-produced spoken word dramatisation and soaring, climactic soundscapes.
I was thoroughly bowled over by the thing, and to then see some of the tracks performed live on the main stage at Dunk! (with that sound system), complete with captivating sequenced visuals to complement the storytelling, and a performance so tight, so professional that they were, for me (and many others) the undoubted highlight of the festival.
Two years on from this triumphant performance and we have Persona, Lost in Kiev’s third album and their first on Pelagic Records, home to recent records by The Ocean, Rosetta, Arabrot and Labirinto. Crucially for me, as it sets the band apart from many of their contemporaries, they continue with the narrative, this time depicting a future where artificially intelligent lifeforms have been assimilated into everyday life.
Heavily influenced in both theme and tone by Blade Runner, the band have introduced a much more significant electronic element to their music, which moves them away from the metallic instrumentation of previous material, and gives the record the colder, slightly perplexing ambience that it needs to set the scene. Stylistically, comparisons with Wild Light by 65daysofstatic and Rave Tapes by Mogwai would not be far wide of the mark, and while Persona does not have the sonic immediacy of Nuit Noire, Lost in Kiev has lost precisely none of their ability to write forceful, deeply emotive pieces of music. The re-positioning of their sound gives individual tracks the space to breathe, and the often short-lived, but beautiful guitar melodies that are a key quality to their work are even further to the fore as a result.
The opening title track is very much a case in point, with proceedings burbling and warbling into gear with synthetic sounds straight from science fiction- like a Cyberdyne Systems factory knocking out the latest cyborg terminator. And then, as the percussion builds, the band drop anchor and deliver a sweet, shimmering lead guitar line which intertwines delightfully with those prominent electronics, giving me the shivers already. It’s quite the start.
‘Interlooper’ rushes out of the speakers in a blitzkrieg of urgent riff and aggressive drumming, before breaking down and allowing a myriad of faraway voices to generate the sound of future confusion. While ‘The Incomplete’ is simply gorgeous, a combination of bubbling analogue bassline, hissing synths and incandescent, goth-infused guitars, which with the help of some powerful drumming take the track through multiple crescendos.
Unlike the narrative in the previous album, the voices that can be heard throughout Persona are largely unintelligible. This can be frustrating at times but is presumably a deliberate act to make this future world an abstract, uncertain place.
‘XM3216’ and ‘Pygmalion’ bring the pace down with greater emphasis on spacey, eerie electronics, although the former develops to another stunning soundscape, and the latter provides the clearest glimpse of this unnatural place, the lead character talking of “making the world more human, well more human than you or me”.
Lost in Kiev do return to the beefier output of their earlier material with the outstanding ‘Psyche’, which has a significant and utterly irresistible build, before ascending into blissed-out sonic euphoria. And ‘Thumos’, which has a filthy, gigantic bassline, and descends into a chaotic amalgamation of off-kilter sounds and claustrophobic rhythms.
It is left to the closing ‘Mecasocialis’ to deliver a surging, powerful end, and provide an unequivocal summary of how much progress Lost in Kiev has made with this record. It is a hugely ambitious album, and concept, and the band had to refine and develop the electronic side to their sound in order to deliver it successfully. The fact that they have achieved this so readily, whilst at the same time retaining much of their band’s original sonic DNA, is ultimate testament to their exceptional talent as musicians. And I love them even more now.