Kangding Ray is one of those artists that occupy the periphery of cool and amongst the marginalised he has slowly emerged as one of the more provocative artists working in electronic bass music today. There’s a poised sensibility to his work, one that negates the focus on trend by transcending immediate accessibility in favour of a timeless appeal and which doesn’t easily succumb to the same pure hedonistic experimentalism of his peers. Everything about Kangding Ray seems controlled and motivated, yet it’s executed in a manner that is entirely his own. His productions wallow in the gloomy aspects of a sonic signature, pushing its listeners subliminally to some unimaginable depth where sober sonic landscapes take on evocative visceral forms. It’s this affinity with the sincerely darker elements of electronic music that has found him on labels like Stroboscopic Artefacts and Raster Norton, and it’s through the latter vehicle that he continues to explore the more malicious depths of dance music in his fifth studio album, Cory Arcane.
Cory Arcane follows the story of an unusual dancer who rejects all ideas of convention in the search for true liberation, a character that seems to be lifted directly from the pages of one of Chuck Palahniuk’s idiosyncratic tomes. Kangding Ray avoids the literal aspects of the story he’s created in favour of music that prefers to highlight the unconventional through recognisable dance music forms. There’s nothing pretentious about Cory Arcane. Like every other dance floor producer/composer, Kangding Ray uses beats and pulses to create his music, which he then sets to a backdrop of the glacial soundscapes, pre-determined by his own familiar sonic palette. It’s IDM in a modest arrangement, where the brazen unconventional nature of the music is subdued in the controlled purpose of the execution. There appears to be two dimensions to Kangding Ray on Cory Arcane. Tracks like Sleepless Road and Safran tend to explore the textural dimensions of a single thread, while others like Dark Barker and These are me rivers are built from a foundation of instinctive rhythmical constructions, prudently layered with the industrial readymade sound palette for the purpose, it seems, of bringing Cory Arcane’s “unorthodox dance movements” to life.
In the post-modern world of Cory Arcane, where cat videos and breakdancing deter her immediate decline, Kangding Ray sculpts a biomechanical world of sound with the odd innocent melody peaking out amongst the hollow percussion, like a ray of optimism in the light of our lead protagonist’s initial demise. It has some of the appearance of the moments of bliss she experiences at the edge of a chaotic metropolis, where the music from her headphones become one with the world outside, but ultimately a direct correlation between the character and the music can never truly exist. So Kangding Ray manages to infect a narrative in single songs like Acto and Brume, without suggesting it should occupy a role in meta-narrative. Acto and Brume are this way inclined from their minimalist’s constructions where powerful sonic moments are counterpointed by near silence. There always seems to be some thing unravelling through the music and Brume is especially effective in the way it pushes and pulls at a singular thread of elastic sound, stretching it out to let it snap back again to the beat, like a silicon band.
Kangding Ray’s music on Cory Arcane is a peculiar assemblage of parts that adopt different objective functions within the compositional framework, rising above explicit classifications to create a singular musical strand. Sequential synthesisers can be found as the driving force behind the rhythmical pursuits, while a kick drum often just offers the crucial starting point of a sub bass modulation. The diverse elements are almost one in the same and seem to exist out of the same miasma of sound. And with many of the sonic signatures shared amongst the 9-track effort an album naturally takes shape. It’s an album of luscious sonic landscapes as much as it is an album of concise dance works. The pre-occupation with a formal rhythmical structure is just as important as Kangding Ray’s sound design and the two are never mutually exclusive with a progressive intent to be found behind every track. Cory Arcane never succumbs to tedium and just when the excessively busy rhythms of tracks like These are my rivers might start to exhaust the listener, the sharp percussive tones of a metallic synthesiser bend and contort like a 3D screensaver, sweeping you off in to the next phase of the track, where the repetitive loop gathers new steam with the addition of a new element.
This is Cory Arcane’s ultimate achievement; sound design that never really looses touch with the form and development of the composition. It’s what makes Kangding Ray such a master at his work and the reason he is the unpretentious leading light in the marginal aspects of electronic dance music today. His music is cool without being ostentatious, quietly revered for its brilliance by the underground elite – which includes many of his peers – without making few waves on the surface of popular culture where it could be appropriated in any one particular trend. If it ever should however, it would be with Cory Arcane, a timeless album that will be a crucial reference for many when they consider which artists wrote electronic music’s future at this point in time.
*You can stream the album in full over at Resident Advisor.