Fun is a central tenet of Yana Kedrina’s music. Liminal Soul, the Moscow-based producer and vocalist’s third album as Kedr Livanskiy, is defined by a wide-eyed, magnanimous playfulness, an openness to quirk that doesn’t inhibit the seriousness of her message. Listen to the way the chirp of birdsong seems to jumpstart a clattering footwork beat on “Celestial Ether,” or the way that, seconds after the album’s final synth aria seems to have drawn to a close on “Storm Dancer,” it returns for one more bar, a tiny, winking encore. These are vignettes that, like a viral video of a puppy riding a duck, feel unprompted and unaffected, born from a less cynical place than most things of this world. In Kedrina’s music, as in life, moments of spontaneous joy blossom with the randomness and beauty of wildflowers from pavement.
Kedrina has been finding ways to suffuse experimental electronic music with the pleasantly haphazard textures of human life since her earliest records. Even the most meticulous producer can’t predict how their tracks will be heard in real life—how environments and substances might make a song sound entirely different from one person to the next—and Kedrina’s music reflects that uncertainty: one of the most disarming moments on her January Sun EP is when “Winds of May” slips into a higher pitch and back, like a tape changing speed; the reverb-heavy vocals on 2019’s Your Need constantly flicker in volume and tone, drifting as if carried on the wind from an entirely different song.
On Liminal Soul, Kedrina’s sleight-of-hand spatial tricks have become even more deft. A burbling synth line buried deep in “Teardrop” feels nestled in the song’s periphery; the first time I noticed it, I thought it was coming from an entirely different audio source. Many of these songs sound as if composed from elements of the world around you, an effect heightened by the fact of Kedrina’s voice, which echoes as if she’s calling to you from some far-off point in a sparse wood.
There’s an exception to Liminal Soul’s enveloping sound, and that’s “Boy,” the album’s only English-language song, and Kedrina’s first song written entirely in that language. Over a plush 2000s pop breakbeat and an arpeggiated synth line gently affected to sound like an acoustic guitar, Kedrina sings some of her most straightforwardly romantic lyrics: “I’m not lying to you boy/I don’t know why but/I can’t be with you boy.” In contrast to her default lyrical style, which focuses on nature and is laden with symbolism, “Boy” is almost comically vague. But that might be the point: Much of Liminal Soul feels designed to chart out the atmosphere of a natural landscape, and “Boy” plays like a pop song intruding on that vista, the hikers next to you blasting English-language pop from a UE Boom. Of course, Kedrina gets to have it both ways—“Boy” still succeeds as a pop ballad, the balletic grace of Kedrina’s voice lending the song appropriate pathos.
The irregularities of Kedrina’s music have, in the past, made it hard to clearly identify her contemporaries. Not so on Liminal Soul: Centering on communion with nature, this album feels of a piece with recent electronic records that embrace the embodied, humanizing potential of dance music. Like Kelly Lee Owens’ Inner Song and Grimes’ Miss Anthropocene, Liminal Soul uses elliptical structures, fragmented vocals, and airy, naturalistic tones to implore listeners to reacquaint themselves with the beauty and healing power of the natural world. It’s slightly less enamored with the textures of rave and techno than past Kedr Livanskiy records, and that’s a good thing: Kedrina allows moments of stillness, like the dubby final 40 seconds of “My Invisible” or the limpid choral parts that introduce “Teardrop,” to provide much-needed breathing space amid the wash of breakbeats and acidic synth lines. There’s new room here for Kedrina’s vocals—a necessary feature, considering how instructive they often feel. “Look at the sky, look at the sky, look at the sky,” she chants on “Stars Light Up,” as if leading a guided meditation. On “Night,” she flees the staid city, finding cleansing power (“The wind is my friend/Forgives everything”) in the countryside. Every kind of natural landscape seems to converge on “Teardrop”; Kedrina places you in the center of it all, singing in Russian:
There are comets and stars below
There’s water and a stone island above
Behind is a desert, a hundred kilometers
There are only lands of eternal snow ahead
The copper compass will guide you
And by the warming breath flowers will blossom in scarlet
The flowers of April cover white snow
Kedrina’s focus on the restorative properties of nature, along with the record’s pleasingly glacial, occasionally trance-y palette, feels redolent of, amazingly, ’90s new-age compilation Pure Moods. Liminal Soul is a little more modern, and dead serious in contrast with Pure Moods’ chintzy gloss, but both albums feel designed to put you back in your body and back in the real world, presenting “a proposal to make life easier, more fantastic, purer,” as Mina Tavakoli wrote of Pure Moods last year. The difference is that Kedrina’s album is semi-didactic, not just palliative. In the world of Liminal Soul, that purer life is possible, as long as you’re willing to gaze at the stars and feel the embrace of the wind, to ease into the lushness of breakbeats and birdsongs. It’s not that deep, Kedrina seems to say—just have fun with it.
Buy: Rough Trade
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