Album Review: KINDER – Different

[Lapsang House; 2021]

Take a quick glance down the tracklist of Different and a story seems to emerge. “Making Amends”, “Different”, “Where The Time Went”, “Life Can Be Good”, and “Hope Is My New Best Friend” all read like sequential glances from a relationship that has changed meaning over time. This is a deliberate move from KINDER – aka Leo Wyatt – as he uses his debut album to explore relationships (both platonic and romantic) to analyse himself in the mirror. The album even comes with a “Beginning” and “End”. The final product is an album that is both introspective and quietly indulgent.

To pigeonhole Wyatt as a gentle balladeer is correct, but only in his music’s barest form. Tracks here have him playing with little more than some fluttery piano notes or guitar strums, but they are often just the first building block. Wyatt is a multi-instrumentalist who enjoys utilising this skill to add cinematic flourishes and unexpected textures to his songs. The hushed guitar notes of “Call Out” get swallowed in mouthfuls of treacly black electronic noise during the song’s bridge, all before a near-symphonic swell of strings finishes the track off. Elsewhere on “Making Amends” he stirs together genres, from soft sung indie pop to the percussive clack of R&B, adding in a sultry bridge with singer Stella Talpo.

Different glides by easily enough when playing, and multiple listens do help reveal the layers Wyatt puts in, as well as the hard work to build up tracks from simple skeletal forms (the woodwind on “Life Can Be Good”, the impressive string arrangements). The London-based songwriter feels mostly concerned with texture above all else though, be it the Sufjan-esque resonance of his piano chords on “Heart” or the autumnal feel for the suspending strings on “Go On And Live It”. (That Wyatt records in a shipping container-turned recording studio definitely sounds evident here.)

Sometimes the feel and tone of a track overtake the message the song is trying to convey. The lyrical sentiment in the chorus of aforementioned “Making Amends” gets lost in the wood of noise while Talpo’s guest vocal turn feels inconsequential, her voice functional more than anything else. (Much the same goes for Paige Bea on the gloomy, jazzy bridge of “Gently”.)

With the layers kept to a minimum, KINDER has the intimacy of an act like Haux, but with more synthetic edges he feels more in line with the likes of Lo-Fang. Wyatt’s sonic range never feels too gesturing though; all the sounds – be it prepared piano, acoustic guitar strums, bass drops, or rainy R&B – feel encased in his own world. Nothing outstays its welcome here, and even when the messages of the tracks don’t offer much beyond the title or a simple repeated chorus line (“Is this love different?”; “Am I genuine?”), the well-meaning heart of Wyatt (worn visibly on his sleeve throughout, as much as he tries to tuck it away at times) speaks clearly. It’s a self-reflective story that never feels difficult to follow; the album’s darker hues and textures largely disperse for the hopeful, sunnier tones of Different‘s B-side.

Come the album’s final vocal track (before the final cinematic swell of “End”, which sounds like movie credits sped up), Wyatt leaves us on a light and optimistic note. His conclusion – “I understand that bad things come and go / Life is complicated but now I see / The meaning in all of it” – might not be especially deep, but against the watery piano ripples and multi-tracked vocals, it’s a sweet and pleasant send off for himself. We might not come out the other end of the album feeling like we have learned a great deal about Wyatt, but the change in tone and the exhale in his voice is evident. A story has been told, which, as said, was evident from the tracklisting alone. On that count the album delivers, but in other regards (real identifiable emotional depth, memorable hooks) it unfortunately feels somewhat lacking.