Walls Became the World
Sun Over The Bridge
ccidental prescience can be a bitch—just ask Kyle Dawkins.
“Sticks and Stones,” a track from the folktronic Georgian’s newest album Walls Became the World, includes snippets of a National Weather Service alert urging the residents of Greenville and Spartanburg, SC to “move to higher ground” due to imminent flooding.
Dawkins may have been 650 miles off target, but still it’s difficult to listen to the piece without reflecting on recent meteorological events. Judging from the way “move to higher ground” is repeated, it’s a safe bet Dawkins intended the phrase as more than expermental window dressing, only now its weightier significance covers far more emotional terrain than he could have ever possibly imagined.
Maybe it’s not on the same level as Kid A “predicting” 9/11, but thankfully Dawkins has plenty more to recommend him, which is exactly what I’ll do now that I’ve committed the novice avant-critic’s laziest sin and overemphasized one of the scant instances where actual words are present on a mostly instrumental album.
For starters, Dawkins lives and records in Athens, a town chiefly recognized for R.E.M., Elephant 6, and two decades-plus of consistently great indie-rock (well, that and football). Alt-country and granola-jam have gotten toeholds in recent years, but stuff like hip-hop and experimental has largely lurked in the shadows of CMJ fodder.
Comparative isolation’s actually a blessing for Dawkins, however, emerging unmolded by any sleekly impervious school and thereby freely locating his own entry point in the conversation between organic and electronic music.
Dawkins’ value to the ongoing dialogue is readily apparent—rare are the artists who approach folktronica from a “folk” perspective rather than an, erm, “tronica” one. His previous album, Conasauga, dwelt almost wholly in Appalachian ruralisms and pristine fingerpicking, and you can hear that ornate classicism in the well-mannered portions of “Warpaint” and “The Nest.”
For the rest of Walls Became the World, however, Dawkins injects his Fahey with a liberal helping of Four Tet. It sounds like an oversimplified recipe for The Books, but Dawkins is noticeably darker and less busily cerebral than the celebrated duo. “Everyday (this happens to you)” and the title track roughly bookend the album with brisk electronic fits, starts and stutterings offset by moments of genuine rusticity, so classically formal they almost feel like Renaissance Faire geekery next to the safely modest shorthand favored by most plugged-in acoustic dabblers (and I mean that in a very good way).
In between, however, Dawkins reveals a predilection for harsher, almost industrial tones and heavily treated guitars that’s both refreshing and potentially troublesome—the former because it runs so counter to the genre’s occasional damning placidity, the latter because it means Dawkins sometimes resembles the instrumental interludes of Nine Inch Nails. Not the worst indictment in the world, but it does cause Dawkins to lose some of his idiosyncratic flavor.
Ultimately it’s a minor concern since Dawkins is already so compositionally resourceful and conceptually intriguing, qualities evinced in equal proportion on “A New Place,” which begins outside with birds and feet trampling grass, then opens a literal door on a lovely acoustic melody, some studio-fucked voices, a burst of creeping bass and childlike Casio tones before sending us back out the door and into, of all places, the rain.