- The Magazine
“I’ve always been a potential control freak,” Kinlaw confesses on the sixth track of her debut album, The Tipping Scale (★★★★☆). With that flippant, self-aware, somewhat deprecating observation, Kinlaw pulls back the curtain on the appeal of her entrancing songwriting.
As a choreographer, composer, visual artist, as well as musician, she is highly attuned to detail and nuance — a high degree of control is necessary. But the “potential” in “potential control freak” is doing a lot of work. While her impulse might be to take the reins, she is more than willing to surrender that control and let her thoughts and feelings take her where they will, or at least to craft the impression that she is.
The album’s rich, ornate sound delicately straddles the line between dramatic synthpop and chillout electronica, and is described by Kinlaw as avant-goth-pop. Bold as it might be to claim such a niche genre, it does neatly capture the music’s strange yet compelling brand of accessible artsiness, and lyrics that are dark, romantic, and brooding. After the lighthearted scene-setting of the opener “Mechanic,” she moves into “Two Poets,” an intense, dramatically synthy song presented as a one-sided conversation that almost demands to be danced to.
Despite the high-art feel of the album, Kinlaw writes in a style that is at once poetic and conversational, lending it an unexpected intimacy. In carefully composed tracks, Kinlaw’s songs explore trust, change, memory, and relationship in the most fundamental sense of the word. Nearly every track is littered with little epiphanies, and a close listen to any of them conjures an image of Kinlaw taking an idea or a memory and turning it over in her hand, exploring every side.
On “Haircut,” she openly wonders, “Did I uncover my power?/Or did I give myself swiftly to the end of it?” Later in the track, she arrives at the profound yet ambiguous answer, “There’s a rule that/When you cut off your hair, you let the old things go.” On other tracks she is jarringly matter-of-fact. On the final track, “The Road,” the vulnerability and rawness that she has been toying with comes to a head in the half-sung, half-spoken lyrics, “I trust in those who’ve hurt me/I think it gets me somewhere.”
As is often the case for multidisciplinary artists, Kinlaw does not necessarily draw a sharp distinction between musicianship and her work in choreography and the visual arts. It’s no coincidence, then, that themes of movement and the relationship between the mind and body are so prominent on this record. Kinlaw’s background as a choreographer led her to an unconventional songwriting approach that begins with raw movement, and ends up with songs and lyrics that revolve around both bodily and spiritual motion.
Though she is operating on a conceptual level, Kinlaw has made an album as well-suited to MoMA as it would be to being played at a moderate volume out of a car’s speakers on a solo late-night drive. The Tipping Scale is a fascinatingly unique album. Built from the ground up on the idea of movement, its slow, chilled-out pace belies its intensity. Despite its avant-garde pretensions, it is a standout pop album that is as fresh as it is compelling.
The Tipping Scale is available on all streaming services and available for purchase at Amazon.com.
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