Kairos by Caul (Review)

For those of you who have always found Massive Attack to be too poppy and upbeat, Kairos might be just the thing.
Kairos, Caul

I’ve been a fan of Caul’s (aka Brett Smith) music for some time now, ever since I got The Sound of Faith back in the mid 1990s. Like Raison d’être, Smith’s brand of dark ambient music has always had a ritualistic, even sacred component to it — and not simply because he occasionally included angelic, choral samples in and amidst his cavernous drones and sonic drifts. Listening to those albums was like wandering through a ruined cathedral and catching glimpses and fragments of the holy ceremonies once performed there, ages ago; all in all, a very heady and affecting experience.

Therefore, I have to admit that I was immediately taken aback when I began listening to his latest, Kairos. For starters, it’s among the most song-oriented releases in his discography. While the haunting atmospherics that he’s become so well-known for are still there, they are wedded to driving, inexorable rhythms and basslines, shrieking guitar distortion, and other elements that I’ve just never really associated with the Caul “sound” (if there was such a thing). Indeed, there’s not a track on here that doesn’t feature those elements, not a composition that relies solely on the ritualistic ambience of earlier recordings.

But after a few listens, Kairos has wormed its way into my subconscious. If I were pressed to throw out a pithy, press quote-worthy description, I’d say something like “Kairos sounds like Mezzanine-era Massive Attack remixing Robert Rich’s Propagation.” On the one hand, there are glacially slow downtempo beats and murky basslines; on the other, eerie guitar drones and exotic textures that conjure up desolately beautiful and alien landscapes. And Smith uses a blend of those two elements to great effect throughout the album.

But there lies the rub: Smith doesn’t really venture from this formula at all, so there’s not a lot of differentiation between the songs — yes, after awhile the beats and textures in one song become nigh-indistinguishable from another song’s. Nevertheless, tracks like “Aglaia,” “Fulgent,” “Echolalia,” and subtly epic “Unbeknown” make for some captivating late-night listening. I still prefer Caul’s more ambient work, such as Light From Many Lamps and Reliquary, but for those of you who have always found Massive Attack to be too poppy and upbeat, Kairos might be just the thing.