Album Review: Kee Avil – Crease

[Constellation; 2022]

Describing the features of Kee Avil‘s music feels almost like a superfluous task. The new moniker of Montreal-based experimental and improvisational artist Vicky Mettler, Kee Avil’s output is more music to approach cautiously and comprehend than actively enjoy at first glance – only then will you get absorbed beyond its barb-like exterior. On Crease, Mettler’s debut album as Kee Avil, she melds together her deft guitar skills with fidgety electronics and black syrup synths, all making for a listen that’s as impenetrable as it is artfully alluring.

Pulling it together over the past three to four years with co-producer Zachary Scholes, Mettler approached the album as an exercise in songwriting. Each track was constructed after the other, with no aim of creating inherent links between them. The result is Mettler working with darker hues than that found on the Kee Avil EP from 2018; that felt like a playground whereas Crease comes off like a workplace – albeit it a very experimental one.

Experimentation is Mettler’s nature though, and the term shouldn’t be synonymous with lack of care or purpose. Though unwieldy to the common ear with time signatures you would do better to try not to even discern, each song here is undeniably and carefully considered. Opener “See, my shadow” bristles with so many layers of seemingly stray plucked strings, low end piano notes, and chuggy guitar rhythms swirled together that it brings a sense of marvel as it does an imposing sense of chaos. It’s like instruments twanging out of tune at their own accord, warping in intense heat or cold. On first impression it sounds like a hurricane of noises that you increasingly want to fight to get to the eye of, so as to try make sense of it all.

Indeed, live videos of the songs on Crease offer no great insight into just how these songs were concocted, but certainly increase the appreciation for Mettler’s multitasking skills: she layers rhythm, percussion, and distortion, as well as showing just how deliberate each itch of guitar or flicker of electronic percussion is. Even though you might not be able to follow the train of thought or predict where the next bulge of noise will come from, it’s part of the draw. Crease thrives when you are beguiled but curious (much like any passing viewer of the intensely creepy album artwork might be).

Mettler’s half-spoken / half-cooed-with-a-whisper voice invites you to lean in closer to make out her words all the more clearly. Phrases linger with peculiar effect. On “Drying” she echoes herself as twitchy, fidgety drum tracks clack and mischievously dribble over the place. “I will sink / to the bottom of a well / to cleanse my palette of you,” she threatens coldly. Elsewhere on “saf”, she signs off with a breathy whisper “It’s alright, I’m not going anywhere” while the repeated iterations of “I, too, bury you too deep” on “I too, bury” become no less fraught with each repetition.

The more you dig into the tracks, the more you might pick up on recurring ideas and words (references to melting ice; meeting someone). One can only make hopeful swings of what these songs actually speak to, but there almost seems to be a self-dissection happening at times, Mettler narrating the songwriting process. “I can see the pattern, but I can’t escape it / It escapes me,” she muses on the strangely seductive “And I”, while on “Okra Ooze”, with its Drift-like Scott Walker avant tone and weighted guitar strums, she seems to ponder the sweet moment her music dances about: “What is the perfect balance?,” she questions with genuine wonder, like the answer is a much sought after divine truth.

But thinking of the songs on Crease in such simple terms feels like only the first step in a long, winding Escher-esque staircase. Indeed when questioned about “See, my shadow” being a love song during an interview, Mettler jokingly responded, “I guess it still is a love song, if it were the soundtrack of a romance novel where I bite off my lover’s head, like an orchid mantis.” The tracks don’t sound like they are meant to have an easy ins – if indeed they are to have an ‘in’ point at all. Even on the brief and relatively bare final track “Gone again” she still keeps everything at arm’s length. “What I’ve done / You’ll never guess / Before you know / I’ll be gone again,” she teases with an elusive air.

Crease is all about that game of catch up. At 36 minutes it’s objectively not a long album, but when you’re fully invested and slightly lost, it can feel denser and longer than it actually is. (The final two tracks are also the weakest here, leaving for a fleeting and unimpressionable ending.) But when you are absorbed, hearing the way the slowly bowed cello strings on “Devil’s Sweet Tooth” sound like a body bag unzipping itself, or holding your breath over the teetering figures Mettler plays alone at the piano on the stark “I too, bury”, the album has a way of tightening a grip around you. Again, describing the actual functional sounds feels somewhat redundant, and this album definitely won’t be for everyone, but when you let your guard down just a smidgen, Crease will be there to lure you in that little bit closer with each listen.