Written by Simon Gore
The mighty Kan Wakan is the wizardry brainchild of Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist Gueorgui L. Linev. A Californian compositional-virtuoso with a passion for classical minimalism, deemed as one of the top 10 best young songwriters by LA weekly. The ensemble trio includes vocalist, Kristianne Bautista and guitarist/producer Peter Potyondy, who welcome another 4 members live to adequately recreate the album. After their self-titled 2012 EP, Moving On is the bands debut full length release, a hauntingly beautiful collection of noir jazz/psych soul compositions with retro Bond soundtrack connotations. This record is a true masterpiece.
With acts like Radiohead and Gnarls Barkley in his customer list, it’s not difficult to see why Kan Wakan chose multi GRAMMY award winning engineer/producer Darrell Thorp to engineer their record, while ‘Crooked Waters’ produced the release. The production throughout the album has an obviously analogue tone, which only complements the quintessential intellectuality of the pseudo-70’s tracks. The grandiose live strings on the record were performed by Gueorgui Linev and conducted by Linev’s uncle Stefan Linev – musical director/conductor for the Bulgarian Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra. With gracious, subtle hints of a Fender Rhodes electric piano, valve Hammond organs and country-esq slide guitar, it’s easy to see why their fan base extends to the likes of Ben Thatcher of Royal Blood and Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys.
The opening track, Forever Found is a four and a half minute introductive journey through nostalgia. Memories of Shirley Basseys “Diamonds are Forever” instantly trigger the classic Bond association whilst it could have equally been heard on The Big Lebowski. Occasional encounters with a soft, chorus-riddled guitar suggest a fond Pink Floyd influence. Bautista’s delicately distorted dynamic vocals compliment the soundscape, rendering this track reminiscent of Radiohead’s OK Computer album.
Kan Wakan rate Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk as some of their main influences. The glorious pad sounds on Like I Need You and sharp, lead synth saw-tooth melodies of title track Moving On/Space Owl justify such a claim. The fifth track, We are Saying Goodbye is no exception. It welcomes a humble electronic bass drum, mildly whirring electro synth melody and ascending reverb/decaying delay on various instruments, a feature that could be easily resembled to Aucan’s Black Rainbow album.
The mellow nature of this album would suggest that the listeners focus would wander astray but it is packed with intricacies that re-alert your interest. Track 6, Sawdust, acquaints further unpredictable features. It displays an almost Nordic allusion, creating memories of Husky Rescue and occasionally complementing the British band Howling Bells. The acute harpsichord string plucks are unexpected but delightful.
For the first time on the album, an evident Portishead influence is present in Why Don’t You Save Me. A gritty reverb on the lead vocal and a brushed snare retain the jazz core, not allowing the track to stray too far into the 90’s. The familiar Fender Rhodes instrumentation reflects similarities to Muse’s rendition of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.
The album comes to a close in true prog style with two numerically married tracks – Midnight Moon Pt. 1 and Midnight Moon Pt. 11. The first hint of an experimental influence demonstrated by a repetitive xylophone melody/harmony outro, establishing a link to the later, an innocent reflection of Steve Reich; a tip of the hat towards Linev’s minimalist background.
Midnight Moon Pt. 11 progresses through to an awesome staggered 4/4 electro beat to stunning linear acoustic drumming, almost worthy of Adam Betts from Three Trapped Tigers or Deantoni Parks of Bosnian Rainbows. The experimental touch is regenerated by a delayed lead saxophone melody of a highly improvised nature, provoking recollections of The Mars Volta’s Frances The Mute album. The track crescendos to a brief and unexpected, instrumental conclusion, an infusion of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Pink Floyd’s Echoes or even Radiohead’s The Tourist.
A fantastic album as far as composition, instrumentation and production are concerned, sadly restricted just a pinch too much by the inevitable demands of the market and requests of major record labels. A little more of the outlandish antics of their influences would have been a really excellent feature but it only keeps you wanting more. This band is destined for herculean success.
‘Moving On’ will be released in the UK on 11th August through Virgin EMI and the band will return to the UK in September 2014.