KSHMR tried to accomplish too many things at once with his debut EP. It was certainly high time for the DJ/producer and former member of The Cataracts to make a definitive statement as a solo artist, but he elected to use the opportunity to test out an ambitious multimedia concept as well.
As a result, The Lion Across The Field EP makes for an awkwardly arranged collection of songs that mostly sound like video game music intended to accompany a story written for an audience a fraction of the age of his current fanbase.
Last month when KSHMR announced the release date of the EP, he also revealed that he published a children’s book of the same name several years ago from which the effort derived much of its themes. You almost have to wonder if, in a scramble to come up with a unique way to package his first album, he decided to copycat Magic Sword’s comic book-accompanying EPs since he already had something on hand to use for the visual elements.
Even if that was the case, it would have been okay if he at least executed it well. Unfortunately, if you’re expecting to listen to an album here then you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by all the story interludes, and if by some off chance you’re listening for the story, then you have to skip past what sound like tracks from a ten-year-old turn-based RPG.
The first track of the album is “The Boy,” an interlude in which a female narrator with an east Indian accent explains in sing-songy rhyme that, basically, there was a boy who liked to chase birds. Seriously, KSHMR needed to devote a whole track to that.
The song that follows is “Jungle Whistle,” which – to its credit – is a layered, complex track that tests the limits of what form progressive house can take. However, the sound design gives it the sterile quality of music played from the sound card of a mid-aughts gaming console. It’s a style that certain hobbyists might find endearing, but in the context of electronic music it doesn’t seem as though it would resonate with a wide audience.
Furthermore, KSHMR weaves elements of Indian classical music into the production of “Jungle Whistle.” He’s well known to be of Kashmiri-Indian descent, and The Lion Across The Field EP seems to feature cultural story elements as well, but it’s difficult to imagine arrangements so heavy on synths that mimic harmoniums and bansuri flutes blending well with the mainstream EDM that he plays during his regular DJ sets. Really, the ambience set by the music and narratives almost seems a caricature of Indian culture.
At the end of the track, KSHMR throws an awkward curveball. A second female voice says a few sentences in Japanese which translate to:
I want to go on a journey. I want to see the world. I want to see everything. I want to see everyone. Shall we go together?
The reason the voice speaks in Japanese of all languages is never addressed, and it only makes you feel more like you’re listening to music from some obscure video game. More importantly, it sounds quite similar to the Japanese female voice on Porter Robinson’s “Flicker.” I hesitate to accuse KSHMR of appropriating ideas twice in one album review, but considering that he’s active enough in the electronic music world to be familiar with Robinson’s work, it seems like a poor judgement to keep the idea even if he arrived at it entirely on his own.
After the next track, “Sleepwalk,” only brings more of the same, the second interlude reveals the plot development around which the story hinges: There’s a lion.
Now that that’s out of the way, the EP hits you with another head scratcher. KSHMR’s Sidney Tipton collaboration from March, “Wild Card,” apparently serves a purpose within the context of this album. Forget that its “Secrets”-reminiscent synth lead sounds completely alien to everything else in the album thus far – it would be a real stretch to play it off like the lyrics fit some part of the plot.
After another interlude that somehow furthers the story, and a slower iteration of the Indian classical music-inspired style titled “Dadima,” comes arguably the best track of the album. KSHMR collaborated with Felix Snow on “Touch,” featuring Madi, and the fact that a collaboration on which Snow seems to have contributed to a greater degree is more palatable than anything else on the album should say everything you need to know.
In case it doesn’t, after another interlude comes “Dhoom,” which sounds even more like video game music than any other track in the effort. It’s almost as if The Lion Across The Field EP has been a painfully elaborate dungeon in a classic RPG and “Dhoom” is the music that plays during the boss fight. Honestly, at this point it wouldn’t even surprise me to learn that KSHMR ripped it directly from some forgotten PS2 game because he thought nobody would notice.
In the final interlude, KSHMR closes out The Lion Across The Field EP’s story with an honest-to-god M. Night Shyamalan twist, revealing that the entire time, the boy was the lion. That almost seems like it should earn the album points for keeping with Indian themes.
As the final track reminds you, though, for all the strikes against it, The Lion Across The Field EP does feature a handful of conceptually rich productions that, in their own way, showcase his creative depth as an artist. Tragically, the album’s faux pas are so numerous that they obscure what merit it actually has. Whether you chalk it up to a series of poor judgement calls or some bizarre motivation that KSHMR hasn’t expressed publicly, his debut EP just misses the mark by way too much.
KSHMR seems to have had good intentions for The Lion Across The Field EP, but too many eccentric and disjointed ideas in both the music and presentation of concepts make for a debut EP that will almost surely be the laughing stock of the 2016 festival season.