Kevin Carey - Water Memory

Adam Ward reflects on the nature of digital nature and the Chicago producer’s debut album.


If you’re reading this and you’re under the age of 35, you probably spend a lot of time on the internet. Likewise, those who take interest in the small subset of music we like to bring you here also spend an inordinate amount of time connected to the internet. The moment we detach ourselves from our computers, we transition seamlessly into mobile internet through our phones. It’s a constant stream of stimulation unparalleled with anything humans have ever experienced.

Which makes it all the more fascinating how easy it is to take in. The ubiquity of smartphones is a recent (like, less than a decade) phenomenon, snapping out of mindless scrolling and realizing how much stuff you’re taking in without really processing it can be jarring.

Kevin Carey is an artist whose music seems uniquely primed for this experience. The Chicago-based producer swirls globs of pulsing UK instrumental grime à-la Gobstopper Records alongside throbbing bass and the watery, metallic sounds of avant-garde electronica permeating your Metacritic charts. His summer single “Water Qualm” remains one of the year’s most stunning tracks. It’s a violent blast of noise that sounds like the audible equivalent of a Gundam fighter wading through radioactive sludge.

His debut album for Zoology is called Water Memory and treads very similar territory, though there’s a distinct effort to mine the benefits of empty space to accentuate the high points. Album opener “Tun State (de Lok)” sounds like coming out of REM sleep, broad swells and fluttering samples interrupted by a vibrating cell phone. It becomes a theme throughout: pseudo-nature attempting to coexist with the inorganic.

“Space Heater” is the big club track here, a church hymn set to Earth-shaking percussion that flits from ear to ear. “Full Health” extends the spaces between kicks and claps for all they’re worth, layering an incredible palette of samples on top of one another during its endless build. Here, and on a lot of his work so far, Carey latches on to a specific pan flute sample that recalls the work of David Wise. That pan flute, originally used to make the Donkey Kong Country series of games feel more jungle-like, has found a home in instrumental grime music this year, Carey being one of its most deft adopters.

“Respawn” has a brief moment of joy, the intro featuring sparkling major-key bells over a 4-4 beat before the whole thing gasps and returns in an evil coda. “Detach (Isolation Tank)” can make your head spin, pitched vocals and swirling microsamples flying past like objects out a train window. A sleepy closer, “Night Cars,” transforms halfway through into a demonic ambient R&B remix that slowly melts into vapor.

Water Memory sounds like the culmination of a lot of different recent musical movements, not so much blended together but forced to coexist in a bubble. It’s a disorienting rush of ideas that, with repeated exposure, worm their way into your brain. Next time you catch yourself extremely logged in, give it a spin.

Water Memory is out now via Zoology.

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