Available on: Public Information LP
The Public Information label is fast developing a reputation for uncovering unusual talent. First there was the occluded techno of Bay Area producer Austin Cesear, then Acteurs’ excellently moody post-Ike Yard schtick. Now the UK imprint returns to the West Coast for the debut release from Katie Gately. Comparisons between Gately and another recently emerged avant-pop artist, Holly Herndon, are inevitable, so let’s get them out of the way early. Yes, both are affiliated with academic institutions (Gately is a grad student at LA’s USC School of Cinematic Arts). And yes, both make an abstracted, highly synthetic form of contemporary pop of which their own voice is a central feature. But in contrast to the surgical-going-on-sterile precision of Herndon’s Movement LP, Gately’s approach is wilder, looser, arguably less disciplined.
This may partly be down to her experience. Gately has apparently been making music for just a year, and a handful of tracks on her Soundcloud chart a developing style over that period – one which periodically veers towards the fringes of pop before dancing away into weirdo ambience and more solemn computer music climes. This self-titled LP continues in that vein. There is a winsome naivety here, and a subtle playfulness, which drains away any latent academic seriousness. Take opener ‘Ice’: its rapid bursts and smears of material are, in fine academic computer music tradition, almost pointillist in construction. But underneath a single dolorous bell-like tone, pitched down and down with ponderous predictability, imbues the whole thing with an almost satirical level of pomp – an impression helped along by the steady descent into anarchy in the latter half.
Elsewhere, granted, Gately proves she can be serious too. The sinister ‘Left Half’ features a single declamatory vocal phrase looped, fragmented and increasingly lost behind thick sheet-drone atmospherics. ‘Dead Referee’ is even more po-faced, a reverb-drenched synth-pop dirge over which Gately’s vocal is sing-song but precise – though, again, a thinly restrained taste for chaos wins out at the midpoint. Perhaps surprisingly, a few moments here suggest parallels with the grime abstractions of Fatima Al Qadiri and Visionist. ‘Last Day’ and ‘Stings’ both feature near-weightless grooves constructed from found sounds – distant explosions, cocking guns etc. – and at points Gately refracts her vocal into a cloud of re-pitched phonemes in a manner eerily similar to Al Qadiri’s Desert Strike EP. Still, in both cases they end up somewhere else entirely – the former in a wide-eyed, folksy incantation reminiscent of Animal Collective, the latter in cosseted bedroom electronica, all soft-edged chords and jangly xylophone.
All of these tracks are highly ambitious in construction, and at points they suffer from a lack of mixing finesse. For the most part, though, the audacity of Gately’s ideas carries her through. Closer ‘Stems’ is the most gripping thing here – particularly its fascinating opening chorale, a vividly unreal a capella assemblage equal parts glossy and sickly. Gately’s debut may lack polish in places, but it shows considerable promise.