Album Review: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Mosaic of Transformation

[Ghostly International; 2020]

The soothing, ever-expanding sounds of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s music naturally finds its place alongside the kinds of relaxing music that is often found accompanying yoga or meditation. Smith has leant into this connection in the past, releasing music specifically for meditative practice with last year’s Tides. But her new album, The Mosaic of Transformation, has no interest in merely being background music while you try to locate your chakras.

On The Mosaic of Transformation, Smith wants you to find connection with your body through listening, but, rather than simply settle there, she wants this music to provoke movement, action, and, in the end, transformation. She has summed up this album as her “expression of love and appreciation for electricity,” and with these songs it seems she wants to get under your skin and start firing those synapses.

So, while still focused around a wealth of sounds created by her trusty Buchla synth, The Mosaic of Transformation features some of Smith’s most unusual productions yet. These are songs that refuse to sit still, Smith showing no interest in structure, and the only repetition comes in the simplistic, mantra-like vocals. “Remembering”, the first proper track on the record, flickers to life like the brain lighting up for a new day, and Smith immediately instils her overall philosophy, repeating: “Be kind to one another / we’re calming together.”

After this gentle introduction, Smith kicks our minds and bodies into gear with “The Steady Heart”. Wooden, fanfare-like sounds introduce this steadily-building song, into which light-techno beats flutter around the halfway point. It’s here where we feel like we’re picking up speed for the day, ready for a period of personal growth and transformation – which may be small or large, but Smith just wants you to set your mind to it.

The album’s beautiful centre point, “Carrying Gravity”, is the closest to meditative that this album gets. The song’s soothing tones massage across the sonic space, evoking a caress from its creator, reminding you to take a break, to not spend too much time carrying the weight of the world. It’s a much-needed moment of respite, because for the second half of The Mosaic of Transformation Smith sets out on some of the most unusual and demanding songs of her discography.

The central idea of transformation comes into fruition as we move into the latter half, with Smith seemingly wanting to transform these songs every 30 seconds. “The Spine is Quiet in the Centre” starts out, as its title suggests, calmly, but after this lulling introduction Smith incorporates some attention-grabbing higher-pitched sounds, a scaffolding of diffuse thuds, and fizzes that spiral across the atmosphere. It’s no surprise that the next track is called “Overflowing”, because “The Spine is Quiet in the Centre” seems to have a few too many ideas all vying for attention, never quite coalescing into a satisfying whole.

Through the back-to-back pair of sub-30-second songs “Overflowing” and “Deepening the Flow Of”, Smith then seems to be priming us for the 10-minute closer “Expanding Electricity”. Here, once again, she seems to be throwing all of her ideas together and tenuously smoothing them together with her electronic wizardry. There are several moments of euphoric clarity in the burbling “Expanding Electricity”, but across the 10 minutes it seems a bit like its title: powerful and attractive, but uncontrolled and sometimes unapproachable.

“Expanding Electricity” is emblematic of the whole of The Mosaic of Transformation; there’s no doubt that it’s a carefully carved and lived-in sound, but there’s not quite a unifying thread that holds it all together – and the series of shorter tracks that punctuate the longer ones seem to actually interrupt the flow rather than facilitate it. This amorphousness was probably part of the intent, with Smith focusing on transformation; how anything in life can be moulded and re-shaped with a bit of determined focus. It’s a compelling idea, which shows itself in many marvellous flashes across The Mosaic of Transformation, but sometimes you wish it would just hold in place and let you admire and appreciate these moments for just a touch longer.