Kevin Kenkel’s second album Break All the Bones in Your Heart comprises elegiac compositions for synthesizer and sampler, filled with pathos, heady atmospheres of longing and loneliness, unanswered calls, and missed connections. The album’s eleven tracks evoke the familiar sense of alienation experienced when the desire for human contact is mediated by apps and AI chatbots. Yet, at the album’s farthest end, it soundtracks dawn breaking over a far-away city, and to borrow one of Kenkel’s track titles, offers the tentative promise of “a different way to live.”

Kenkel possesses the uncanny ability to give samples from TV news and movies an emotional charge. “Sleepwalker I” opens the album with a cacophonic spray of voices, akin to scanning across radio frequencies or distracted channel hopping. The voices are slowly drowned by rising sawtooth tones, quickly segueing into the dark and moody groove of “He Isn’t Thinking About You.” A brief minute of pulsing rhythm — its energy enervated, like an exhausted raver flagging on the dancefloor — collapses into an uneasy phone message, then the soft organ drone of “Sleepwalker II,” in which a man’s plaintive voice repeats a warning: don’t turn around.

Kenkel’s compositional style is marked by the lush and melodic synth arpeggios heard on the title track “Break All the Bones in Your Heart” and on “Imaginary Boyfriend (Elodie’s Haunted Memory Version).” Here, Grammy nominated pianist Adam Tendler transposes the dancing arpeggios into a haunting piano performance, which a rising tide of distortion threatens to consume. Kenkel and Tendler bring the sonic environment of the album into a bigger space, as if throwing open the window in order to air out the claustrophobic introspection of the earlier tracks — a turn outwards rather than inwards.

By the album’s sonic and emotional midpoint — “Please, don’t” featuring Holly Herndon's Holly+ AI voice generator — slow, plangent melody has given way to urgent, bubbling, clusters of notes, which fall back and disintegrate into indistinct field recording. In the hypnotic “Twin Engines,” a hovering choral drone holds the album in stillness, a kind of limbo. A clipped voice utters short, telegrammatic phrases: locked door, in the air, spinning around, in the dark. The title is the key: a long-distance night flight, the quiet rumble of jet engines, a narcotized state of mind, the moon eclipsed by the sun.

In the album closer “An Amazing Dream of Mt. Fuji,” light begins to shimmer across slow, unfurling modular rhythms, into which multi-instrumentalist (and fellow Soap Librarian) Eve Essex burns hot lines of overdriven flute and saxophone. The claustrophobic fog of the album’s first half evaporates. The sleepwalker wakes up to a new day, a new start. But anxiety lingers, as a sampled voice repeats oh no, not again — over and over, back to the beginning.

Kevin Kenkel is an artist and musician based in Brooklyn, originally from Los Angeles. His method of composition is inspired by aleatoric or chance methods, having studied the works of composers including John Cage, Henry Cowell, Brian Eno, Paul Lansky, Elodie Lauten, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Laurie Spiegel. The exploration and exploitation of developing technologies — especially chatbots and other AI-powered systems for communication — are of paramount interest in his work, complementing his use of analog synthesizers, analog mixers, outboard equipment, and tape recorders.

In 2021, Kenkel released his debut solo album Will You Please Let Me Pour My Heart Out? on his own imprint, Nadine & Norma. A collection of compositions for analog synthesizer, critic Dan Fox described it as “a haze of drowsy, slow-paced Moog melodies, thick as summer air, warm and woozy, sounding like an American cousin to Boards of Canada.”

Kenkel regularly performs as both a soloist and collaborator alongside Colin Self, Eve Essex, and Das Audit. He curates Deep Listening, a regular evening of experimental electronics at Parkside Lounge in NYC’s Lower East Side. Additionally, he plays synthesizers and electronics for the performance artist Christeene, with recent performances in Norway, Italy, Los Angeles, and Denver.


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