Tommy is ultimately more undercooked than bad.
Klein, the new Hyperdub signee from South London, has a lot of weird ideas. What’s less clear is whether she brings those ideas to her music or just stumbles across them while playing with her software. Her third EP Tommy is an unusually amateurish release for a label like Hyperdub, sounding as it does like the kind of thing kids knock together on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe that’s what it is. It starts with the sound of Klein and her friends chattering before the Audacity kicks in and a sample that sounds like the hounds of hell starts loping towards infinity.
It’s not unlistenable. Once you’ve accepted it for what it is, it has a certain thorny appeal. But Hyperdub has invested a lot in this young artist, and Tommy doesn’t give us a good idea why.
To be sure, she has an appealing aesthetic that’s in line with recent poptimist trends in electronic music. She samples the Foo Fighters and Love & Hip Hop, her breathy vocals bear the strong influence of R&B, and her album cover positions her as a sort of 2D starlet like its designer, PC Music’s Hannah Diamond (and kind of looks like Dean Blunt’s BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow cover, too). In interviews, she comes across as smart, ambitious, and funny—an exciting young artist. But once the package is unwrapped, the music can’t help but underwhelm.
Her tracks are composed in Audacity, the cheapest and shoddiest of all music-editing software. Anyone who’s messed with it even a little can tell you how these tracks were made. She starts by looping a bit of her own voice. If she wants to modulate, she’ll pitch-shift the sample. Then she adds more until we’re drowning in layers of goblin voices. The seams in her compositions are obvious, and there’s no clear rhyme or reason to how they’re composed: they come across like scattered parts dumped on the floor, waiting to be built into some semblance of a structure.
The tracks that work the best have something to rein in all the weirdness, “Prologue” has the most natural arc, starting off so innocuously and tunneling deeper and deeper into evil sound as Klein adds more and more layers. “Everlong,” the one with the Foo Fighters sample, rides its snatch of dour guitar into the sunset. “B2k” is reined in by its rainy pads, which provide a foundation above which all the weirdness spirals anarchically. But most of these pieces splay out aimlessly. They barely seem to have been touched since the initial tracks were recorded.
Tommy is ultimately more undercooked than bad, and Klein stumbles across a lot of interesting sounds throughout the EP’s 24-minute runtime. Excessive use of sound effects can obscure the true purpose of the music, but Tommy doesn’t really suffer from that problem, as the effects seem to be the purpose of the music. There’s not much here that’s really cringeworthy, not much that can be chalked up to bad taste or bad decision-making—not much of anything, really.