Album Review: Kate NV – Room For The Moon

[RVNG Intl.; 2020]

Kate NV’s previous album, 2018’s для FOR, was a sonic ode to her hometown of Moscow – but it was one that painted in abstracts, leaving the listener to shape and colour their own images of the city. With her new album, Room For The Moon, she has shifted her focus to the celestial, but aims for a similar effect, as she places the listener in an unusual sonic space and asks them to use their imagination to bring it into focus.

The video for “Marafon 15”, a highlight from Room For The Moon, was an early indication of NV’s intentions with the album. In it, she dressed up as a self-described “fairytale prince,” donning a red pointed hat and wearing a skin-tight midnight blue outfit decorated with stars. This introduced us to the prancing and playful character of her album – and yet it was set against a dull grey backdrop, further evidence that she’s expecting her listeners to fill in the blanks for themselves. Her invitation to envisage your own fantastical setting continues on the album, and with the simply delightful collection of sounds she’s creatively arranged across Room For The Moon, it’s a leap of faith that most will take gleefully.

While her method of intermingling a vibrant array of synthesized sounds remains from previous records, there is more musical complexity, which yields a pure joyousness that comes bouncing out. She has energised her productions with greater depth, more interplay across the stereo field, a wider array of instruments, and brought in more groove with delicious licks of bass guitar that curve up and dance amid the dotted colours. These sound like fairly simple things written down, but in listening it can be quite overwhelming to take in quite so many glittering sounds dashing around your head. It’s like being transported to a secret future city on the dark side of the titular orb, where technologically-advanced vehicles whizz all around.

This lunar city is silver-hewed, as NV imbues her songs with light synth beds that give the whole affair a sparkling sheen. There are plenty of electronic tones and timbres that sashay back and forth, forming the basis of this extra-terrestrial excursion, but it’s the host of organic sounds that elevate her music to a whole new plane of excellence.

Several songs have interplaying marimbas that recall the innocent creativity of school music lessons, dancing around your head, teasing your senses as they alternately tickle your eardrums. Saxophone shows up several times; trailing like a shooting star seen up close on “Du Na”, twirling out of the shadows in a flamboyant dance on “Plans”, or combusting with pure abandon on “Telefon”. “Ça Commence Par” features an ebullient flute that evokes the pure ecstasy of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, which is surely no accident.

This variety of impish tones is held together by a tight rhythm section, which hangs in the undertow of these brighter sounds, but is anything but workmanlike. The bass squiggles and the beats vary in cadence throughout; if the melodies are the polychromatic lights and fauna of this lunar city, then the bass is the gilded paths between them and the percussion is the echo of your steps as you proceed. This shapeshifting undercurrent recalls the cross-cultural pollination of the Japanese band Mariah on their final album Utakata No Hibi, but it’s less rooted in tradition – Kate NV’s intentions lay beyond the earthly realm.

This is true in her vocals too; while Russian, English, French and Japanese show up on the album, the truth is that the words don’t matter greatly. “Can you hear a song without words?” she asks on “Plans”, seemingly inviting us to purely hear her frolicsome voice as another facet of this detailed world. Her spirited and cheeky presence is our guide through this unusual realm, and all we need to know is that we should follow it.

Since the dawn of man, the moon has been a constant presence in art, philosophy, theology and fiction. More recently, as we’ve grown to learn more about the universe and our place within it, the moon’s significance has waned – but, with Room For The Moon,Kate NV wants to remind us of the power and magic that it still holds. It remains a place that very few have ever been, and for poetic-minded people its mystery is not diminished. Room For The Moon takes that fantastical potential and runs with it, creating an utterly unique and engrossing album that will set your imagination afloat in a world of possibility.