Recently, it seems like dance fiends and indie kids alike have been dominated by a certain cohort of French electronic artists. My roommate has been to two Daft Punk shows in the last few months and he claims that said shows “melted his face off” with their combination of mashed up dance music and oversized pulsating LCD pyramids. Now don’t get me wrong, I love French dance music and I love Daft Punk, but I think one has to admit that such music is a bombastic attempt to create a non-stop party. In contrast to this, newcomer OK Ikumi takes electronic music in another direction with his new album Spirits, creating electronic music on a much smaller, more personal scale. While Daft Punk has the ability to transform your bedroom into a dance floor, OK Ikumi is simply content leaving your bedroom as it is.
Spirits is the debut album from Karl Jorgenson, who has been creating music under the OK Ikumi moniker for the last few years. The music has been called dream pop or lo-fi and resembles the work of Jimmy Tamborello and Figurine in the way that it infuses electronic elements with strong melodies. However, while there are similarities in forms between Figurine and OK Ikumi (particularly in the subdued vocals), the two seem to diverge in their subject matter. Figurine’s music tends to emphasize the ways that technology can estrange us from one another (see James Figurine’s “55566688833” for example); OK Ikumi, on the other hand, seems to be interested more in technology’s emotive possibilities.
Opening track “Relocation” is illustrative of this. The song starts out with a simple repeating sample and then organically builds up the melody, weaving keyboard lines on top of one another. As the female (Kari Jorgensen of The Boy Who Could Fly) and male vocals combine, they speak of moving. However, they do not moan that the city life is alienating them from one another, but simply only desire to be in a place where they can be together. In a later duet between the two on the album, “No Matter,” the two speak of the dichotomy of the city vs. country. Again they emphasize that external circumstances aren’t nearly as important as the relationship between individuals.
The emotional content is really the strongest aspect of Spirits. Songs like “Star Radio” and “True Ghosts,” which could have been easily transformed into dance hall thrashers, are instead grounded with subdued instrumentation and tempos, thus allowing the soul, or “spirit” of the song to come out. That is not to say that there isn’t any dancing going on the album. In homage to a disco romance, “Heart Not Stopping” could easily be pumped at any hipster dance party. However, OK Ikumi’s use of simple instrumentation makes the song more suited for mix tapes for loved ones.
The album ends with “Spirits,” which is arguably the best song on the album, and possibly the best song that OK Ikumi has ever written. Here, all the best elements of Karl’s music are put forth: the sampler lays down a drumbeat that is aggressive but not overbearing. The layers of keyboards create an atmosphere that is spooky yet inviting. The vocals are hushed and haunting yet still warm. Yet again, Karl is bringing together two elements that are usually mutually exclusive: electronics and emotion, and the results are beautiful.
One of the most exciting elements of the album is also its deficiency: Spirits is OK Ikumi’s first album. Many of these songs have been culled from previous recordings and writing that has gone on over the years. This results in a track listing which often feels uneven. Instrumental dance songs like “Midnight” and “Reform” don’t seem fit in as well with some of the more delicately constructed tunes that are on the album. However, these are things that an artist learns through experience, and the remaining tracks on Spirits show a great deal of promise for an artist who I hope will be rocking my bedroom for years to come.