I’m always amazed at how Charmaine Lee manages to mangle and manipulate her voice into an entity in-and-of itself. Her work is visceral and pushes extremes past their extreme, doing things and making sounds that seem impossible. KNVF, her latest album, is the most distilled crystallization of her work so far and, at its core, an intense purge of emotion through sound.
First thing about KNVF that hints at what you’ll find is the cover featuring Charmaine Lee’s face morphed into nine different, way out there expressions. It’s unnerving, but there’s also threads of humor and joy woven throughout that belies those first impressions. Trills and whistles on “Gravity” add levity and Lee even, for a few seconds anyway, breaks into song. “Residual Pulse” sounds like being stuck in a pinball machine, Lee’s voice bouncing around through static until, for a brief moment near the end, the angelic chimes of another dimension open up and suck everything in. It’s so unexpected that it’s like you dreamed it and it never really happened.
Amplified hair comb (made by Victoria Shen) sounds like small bodies being dragged through the grass on “Whip,” strange insects buzzing around and, suddenly, Lee punctuating each sonic slide with deep breaths and sounds of exertion. It’s unsettling and wholly immersive. She even gets into harsh noise territories on pieces like the rumbling, grinding “Bares” and piercing “Exuberant Bodies (For Yan Jun).” Considering the source is mostly just Lee herself, it’s mind bending hearing the maximal range of sounds present.
I love the constant jumps between stark isolation and utter chaos throughout KNVF and how the dichotomies that are mined keep you on edge and scattered throughout. Charmaine Lee makes physical music that is unlike anything else I’ve heard. Her methods and approach are dialed in on KNVF and it’s my favorite recorded document of her work so far. I have no idea what to expect from her next and that’s a great place to be.