Kate NV Breaks Conventions to Maximize Fun on WOW

The Russian polymath follows her curious sensibilities in pursuit of joy on colorful fourth studio LP

Music Reviews Kate NV
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Kate NV Breaks Conventions to Maximize Fun on <i>WOW</i>

In the video for the single “oni (they),” a digital Kate Shilonosova, marching forward always, waddles across an undulating landscape in which everyday objects are suspended in the thin air. She collides with levitating rubbish bags, synthesizers, street signs, palettes, televisions, taxicabs, even cats (they’ll show up again later). If she ambles straight into them, they’ll latch on to her as she trudges forward; despite the cumbersome fact of it all, Shilonosova remains unphased: after all, if it gets to be too much, they’ll all fall off at once. She can keep on keeping on. She can stop and admire whatever she wants to, whenever she wants.

In essence, that’s the premise of the song and the record. Shilonosova teamed up with Japanese footwork producer Foodman to pen lyrics touching on lost fruits and vegetables strewn about the road. They’re pops of colors we might miss if we don’t let ourselves get delighted. On WOW, Shilonosova’s latest album as Kate NV, she assembles a panoply of curious sounds and visions to delight beyond what typical music can do.

WOW isn’t fun like a class clown, per se, but more like a clown with class. Over the years, Shilonosova’s toying with busted instruments, manipulated vocals and everyday objects has led her to amass a treasure trove of recordings of all things spontaneous. Drawing on the boundless curiosity of her hero Nobukazu Takemura, Shilonosova’s own love for all things fun and vibrant has her eschewing traditional structures in order to construct pop songs so stimulating and multifaceted that they can be hard to keep track of. Her songs ask a lot of listeners not because they are overdetermined works of art but because they require dropping all pretense and submitting oneself to forbidden levels of whimsy. It’s a difficult exercise, but oh so rewarding.

In some tracks, little stories appear in the cracks between bloops and sproings. Take “confessions at the dinner table,” a track with an upbeat entry, resembling the sound of a feast commencing with moods on the upswing. Shilonosova dropped forks against a stone floor to replicate tines meeting plates, helping to set the scene. Between the violins, the sounds of glass breaking, dissonant horns and abstract vocalizations, the track displays intriguing denouement. “Slon (elephant)” has a distinctly Animal Crossing vibe, between the gentle oscillations and the abstracted vocals that sound like a K.K. Slider hit.

In fact, animals are all over WOW. The charming “early bird” features a panoply of toy bird calls mixed among synthesized slap bass and whimsical brass, recalling natural mini-symphonies that happen every daybreak. WOW closes with its cutest anthem, “meow chat,” a flurry of digital mews popping amongst a host of other unique sounds, including brass and swordplay. The video shows the same digital Shilonosova so inundated with cats that she becomes one. It’s reminiscent of a more innocent time when the internet’s most pressing use was to watch and share the latest cat videos.

Each track on WOW feels like a field trip: rather than distinct pop songs with clear starts and ends, each song is a brief visit to a fully formed ecosystem which we can only witness for a fleeting moment. Before you can lament the conclusion of one visit, Shilonosova has another destination prepared for you. Much like how she welcomed randomness in her production choices, listening to WOW is an exercise in learning to tolerate, if not embrace, idiosyncrasies. To give oneself over to the world of colorful unpredictability is easier said than done, but it makes for a rewarding experience that leaves one grinning ear to ear. —Devon Chodzin

Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Slumber Mag, Merry-Go-Round and Post-Trash. He is currently a student in Philadelphia. He lives on Twitter @bigugly