Earlier this year, restless sonic explorer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith released a Sade cover. A testament not just to the longevity of Sade's sensual, wistful pop, but also to Smith's inventive spirit, her utterly gorgeous version of "By Your Side" does not appear on The Kid, but heralds it. The Kid is Smith's fourth full-length work in three years, and finds Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith the artist and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith the person merging beautifully.
Smith's voice appeared very sparingly on her previous work. Last year's EARS and Sunergy (a collaboration with synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani) burbled with drones, arpeggios, and sonic detritus wrangled from all manner of synthesisers. When her voice, or a stray, meandering woodwind, did intrude on the futuristic bliss, it was dripping with effects like another piece of the gleefully artificial puzzle that is Smith's music.
The Kid opens with what sounds like digital birdsong. The intro "I Am a Thought" could easily have appeared on EARS, and almost bridges the two records. Its warped tones coalesce into "An Intention," a mellow piece of pop that suggests Smith has learnt a lot from Sade. Her voice is matched by a pitched-down twin, but its clarity as Smith displays an endearingly amateur but refined style is completely arresting.
Despite its sonic vagueness and Smith's brilliant ear for surprising and physical textures, there is something autobiographical in The Kid. "In the World," following on from the steadfast mechanical pulse of "A Kid" is pastoral English folk from the 23rd Century - children playing in an idyll on Mars. Throughout the record, Smith seems to examine her consciousness of her surroundings and her relationship with the world, tussling between freedom and obligation.
Making sense of the world is not a new pursuit for art, but Smith does it with an embrace of the random and the untameable. Her delicate soundscapes are fractured, seemingly random and splintered into tiny, gleaming parts. Through the stream her voice floats, solid yet buoyant. Tracks like the fluttering, hard-edged "In the World, But Not of the World" or the meandering horns of "Until I Remember" have a detached quality that can read as melancholy, later to be undone by the wide-eyed wonder of "I Am Learning," or the simplistic sun-dappled warmth of "Who I Am & Why I Am Where I Am."
The "ambient" label that has been applied to Smith (perhaps plagued her) is always hovering in the peripherals of The Kid, but electronic beats, chord changes and the interplay of the two in dramatic arrangements come to the fore. The single "To Follow & Lead" is particularly stunning, with an enormous amount of parts, including what might be an alto sax, moving in harmony or opposition until they can't be extricated - just viewed as a soft and blissful whole.
It's remarkable that an artist like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has made something this personal and direct - this human - without losing sight of her signature sound. With The Kid, Smith arguably proves that abstraction does not have to be overly intellectual, and pensiveness can be extroverted. Few artists can merge form and content as meticulously and as effortlessly as Smith has here on one of the year's most beguiling and enthralling records.
The Kid is out on Friday October 6th on digital formats.