What is it about a soft, seductive female voice singing over string arrangements, dark atmospherics, thundering basslines, and hard beats? Why is it that music like that always seems to catch my ear, to lodge itself firmly in my brain, and entice me like so few other styles can. There’s the whole alluring quality, the dark, mysterious nature of it all. Such was the promise of the opening tracks of Kiss My Arp.
“The Unknown” starts off like a b-side of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, with a dark rolling bassline and beats creating a musical web of harrowing proportions. Over top of that lies Parker’s swooning voice and building string arrangements. It continues through “Clutching At Straws,” the album’s most solemn and stately moment. “Breaking The Code” trades in the string arrangements for some harsh industrial rhythms and harsh beats.
Unfortunately, Kiss My Arp moves from the realm of orchestral trip-hop, where it was doing so nicely, into a vein of harrowing, foreboding techno similar to Locust’s earlier efforts à la Weathered Well. It works on “Breaking The Code,” because it still serves as a bed for Parker’s voice, and “In Two Minds,” with its mirky orchestral undercurrents. The problem with the later tracks is that, with Parker’s voice gone, there’s no longer anything for the music to focus on. The music lapses into a monotonous pattern, the songs starting off with some off-kilter beat surrounded by disturbing sounds, noises, and all sorts of wobbling audio filler. However interesting it may sound, it feels dead and soulless without Parker’s vocals.
As the song progresses, more elements come into play; a little more ambience here, a stray melody there. However, you can’t escape the fact that the core of the song doesn’t change. At least with the earlier material, you had nice little seques and bridges that added a little variety. Not to mention Parker’s lovely voice floating over it all. The songs get locked into a pattern that could sound great, but only as the foundation of something else as opposed to the end-all and be-all of the song.
Thankfully, the string arrangements resurface on the sorrowful “Return of the Rocking Chair” and we’re back to the album’s strong suit. Make no mistake, a well-done string arrangement makes a world of difference with this album, adding much more weight and substance to a song than any amount of knob-twiddling, drum programming, or studio trickery. On the album’s string-drenched sections, I’m reminded of Craig Armstrong’s gorgeous The Space Between Us, which is one of the best combinations of strings and electronics I’ve ever heard. Kiss My Arp’s finest moments come close to matching the beauty of Armstrong’s compositions. Unfortunately, the album’s finest moments are few and very far between.