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Kenny Larkin - Keys, Strings, Tambourines


If all Detroit artists had to encapsulate their best work in 5 tracks, Kenny Larkin would be the equal of anyone. His Metaphor and Azimuth albums are still amongst the most emotive and beautiful techno works ever made, and although the quality has dropped off since his relocation to Los Angeles to make a career as a comedian, Larkin still has a musical signature that is his own.

His latest album on Planet E, a label that I personally feel has waned somewhat, shows a revival that was missing in the painfully tribal sensibilities of “Funkfaker” and “The Narcissist” and hints at a return to form. Although there’s no doubt that the minimalist influence of European techno has clearly made an impact on the direction that Larkin has taken, what with acres of space and reverb appearing in most of the tracks, there are slivers of the velvet melodies that he was so skilled at producing before. The jazz-inflected arrangements of “Glob” follow the album’s title in reproducing an organic feel that whilst not immediate, display a warmth that matches label head Carl Craig’s best works.

Larkin doesn’t go for the “live” feel like Craig, and it’s almost as if he knows his limits because the odd organic moment is pushed aside by forceful dancefloor dynamics most of the time. Tracks such as “Wake Me” and “Drone” are where he displays his best work, the former mixing dubby echoes with some beautiful counterpoint melodies that recall the best of Detroit Techno, eddying into a psychedelic climax. Elsewhere there’s some interesting excursions into uncertainty, not least with “Bass Mode”, bubbly synths that threaten to collapse underpinned by insistent percussion, and in the latter half of the album (I have the CD version) he drops the tempo for a while, concentrating on some low-key synth work that gives the album a spacious feel before bringing the album to a satisfying end, finishing with the intense Maurizio-influenced work-out of “You Are”. I’m not usually a fan of the Cajmere-esque vocal style, but to his credit, Larkin pulls it off without sounding too silly.

The strength of of “Keys, Strings, Tambourines” lies in its pacing and direction. Precise and simplistic arrangements underscored by a narrative aspect are the backbone of the tracks, which grow with each listen. Immediacy, which was behind the power in his earlier material, is not in this album, and as such some may be disappointed at first by a work that shows a new direction from Larkin without sacrificing his true strengths. It’s not an album that will make a great impact, but may be a stepping stone for more interesting work from him.

Toby Frith

Reader Comments (1)

Looking forward to hearing this. Good review although I thought Funkfaker was ace.

October 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterthe larch

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