KMRU: Glim

KMRU’s 2020 album Peel was a formidable addition to the long list of great electronic albums released on the Editions Mego label. The shadowy six-track release established the Nairobi-born, Berlin-based artist (aka Joseph Kamaru) as one of ambient music’s most exciting young talents almost overnight. But though he’s only been releasing music for a little over five years, Peel was just one point in the arc of a prolific career that includes fiery collaborationsambitious meditations on colonial violence, and cryptic Bandcamp exclusives that arrive with little context. Glim is the latest and one of the longest of the latter, its intentions hidden behind a smattering of cryptic one-word track titles and an eerie photograph from Berlin’s Claudia Mock showing reeds along a shoreline that can only be faintly glimpsed in the darkness.

That photo is the most useful key to unlocking the depths of Glim: The ocean may look blank and lifeless from above, but it conceals countless ecosystems. Likewise, though Glim sounds at first like an austere experiment in pure drone, the mix is permeated with human sounds that may escape the ear on a first listen. The sound of kids playing on opening track “motley” is easy to pick out—less so the snap of a camera about a minute and a half in, or the sound of a car revving on “line.” Kamaru has never been showy with field recordings; he weaves them into the fabric of his music rather than using everyday sounds as readymade signifiers, but he’s said he’s “very intentional when I record and why I’m recording the space.” Knowing there’s an intent behind Kamaru’s choice of source material, no matter how obscure, deepens the intrigue.

In opposition to the vast, rainy desolation of Peel or the soothing sounds of last year’s Epoch, Glim is prickly and ominous, rarely deviating from minor keys. Kamaru likes bit-crushed distortion that makes his music sound like it’s echoing out of the busted speakers of a Game Boy Advance, and he likes drones that are damaged or serrated in some way. The interference on “strain” might prompt listeners to check their headphones; on “its,” a speeding and slowing oscillator warps the linear sense of time implied by the piece’s impassive, glacial progress. Rather than the contented bliss Kamaru summoned on Epoch, Glim offers bleak, even menacing soundscapes that bristle with the possibility of danger, as though a predator lurked nearby, unseen.

Glim sounds monolithic at first yet opens up to reveal cracks and details. Played in the background, the music’s complexity will probably be lost as the sounds of everyday life blend with the field recordings in the mix. More focused effort is required to pick up on all the details, but giving Glim your undivided attention can be a grueling experience. It’s too unnerving to allow you to sink back and get lost. It’s not texturally detailed enough to provide any kind of psychedelic brain massage. And given its length—12 tracks in 56 minutes, all fading in and out as if at random—it never sustains a mood for long. Glim is like an abstract painting that rewards being looked at from all angles, but no matter how much you squint, its secrets remain just out of sight.