rom the jump, Mount Kimbie have been contrarian. The duo of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos may have chosen a handle that suggests a towering geological formation, but they quip that it merely signifies “a place inside all of us where buses arrive on time.” They began their career on the heels of dubstep, but instead of the drop, they favored drips, blips, and hiccups. Such smallness becomes Mount Kimbie, so much so that Maker’s recent production credit on JAY-Z’s 4:44 is for a song in which the sound of breathing sometimes overshadows the rapper himself. Mount Kimbie’s most ubiquitous two seconds, thus far in their career, might be the thrumming snippet of guitar strings that buzzes behind Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber’s “Juke Jam,” sampled from their own Crooks & Lovers song “Adriatic.” Four years after their Warp debut, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, Maker now lives in Los Angeles while Campos is still in London. But despite swapping files across thousands of miles, they feel like a real live band bashing out their third album, Love What Survives.
While previous Mount Kimbie albums could bring to mind the meticulous and effervescent electronic music of Boards of Canada, Four Tet, and the like, Love What Survives churns and buzzes like post-punk or krautrock. Mixing circuitry and sweat, their drum machines stumble about like a hyperactive if unlearned drummer. Feeding back like overdriven guitars, the Korg MS-20 and Korg Delta synths that Maker and Campos used exclusively on the album elicit metallic tones reminiscent of plucked kalimbas, conjuring any number of Rough Trade bands from the early 1980s that moved from guitar-centered punk toward more exotic timbres. This jammy, hands-on approach gives instrumental tracks like “Audition” and “Delta” a rough-hewn urgency; they sound like they were hammered out by the band at their squat rather than fussed over on a computer screen.
Adding to that full-band feel is the stable of vocalists Mount Kimbie prominently feature here, including King Krule, Micachu, and their longtime colleague, James Blake. After the striking electronic amalgams they made with King Krule on Cold Spring—the standout tracks “You Took Your Time” and “Meter, Pale, Tone”—Mount Kimbie seethe and roar behind him on the roiling “Blue Train Lines.” Peals of feedback, wobbling bass, and relentless hi-hats sizzle around Archy Marshall’s strangulated growl as he reels off seedy images of razorblades, popping veins, and dead bodies. The song’s watery, inchoate elements don’t quite coalesce until the midpoint, when a furious drumbeat snaps the din into sharp focus and it all goes speeding toward a seething climax. Marshall’s performance is so visceral and intense that it’s hard not to imagine him thrashing on the floor of a mosh pit by the song’s end.
A garbled guitar riff commingles with a throbbing bass figure worthy of the Fall’s early sides on “You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure),” another highlight. The churning motorik beat is deftly offset by Andrea Balency, the band’s live vocalist, whose multi-tracked voice conjures the curious delivery—monotone yet strangely compelling—that Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen affected during their band’s prime.
Mount Kimbie reunite with James Blake for two of the album’s most off-kilter tracks. “We Go Home Together” is a drunken mix of looped laughter and church organ that turns melodramatic and before abruptly dissolving, some two minutes in; Blake’s tone is more caterwaul than nuanced complement. More successful is the closing “How We Got By,” which also flits between chest-heaving release and slow-decay minimalism. “When I get it wrong/I really get it wrong,” murmurs Blake, exploring a lower register than we’re used to hearing from him; as the song nears its close, the duo drapes his harmonized voice over hesitant piano and understated bass pulse, sounding both opulent and restrained.
But the album’s most stunning vocal turn comes from Micachu on “Marilyn,” which might prove to be the most disarming song in either artist’s oeuvre. Built on an arpeggiated thumb-piano figure and a tapped ride cymbal that swings loosely over the rhythmic grid, it sounds like a lost Arthur Russell song that the Raincoats never got to record for Odyshape. Mica Levi’s deceptively flat intonation bears just enough vibrato that when the horns and melodica enter, the song turns ruminative and redemptive at once. It’s that kind of subtle detail that makes Love What Survives feel all the more substantial. The duo’s music was always full of the small details, but they now conspire toward something bigger.