by Mark Anthony Brennan
Release Date: September 30th, 2014
Kinnie Starr’s new album ‘From Far Away’ has an overall pleasing cohesiveness to it, but there are really three distinct styles in play here. Five of the ten tracks feature Starr’s brand of spoken word music (“hip hop aggro groove” according to some) which we’ve become familiar with on such albums as ‘Anything’. On the other hand, “Summer Day”, “From Far Away” and “I Don’t Love You” are examples of the breezy pop we heard on Starr’s last album ‘A Different Day’. Finally, there’s “Touch the Sky” and “It’ll Be Fine” which are refreshingly au courant with their electrofolk vibes. It’s not as if your ears pick up a jarring change in tone from one song to the next, so the three styles don’t exactly clash, but they do each require a different standard of appreciation.
Let’s take the spoken word tracks first. I resist using the term “rap” because that carries with it certain preconceptions that Starr, for the most part, manages to defy. “The First Time”, for example, has a rock/funk rhythm as opposed to more conventional hip hop. Furthermore, the narrative is mostly sung, and when Starr does use spoken word she does so in her own voice – she does not affect the sound of traditional urban rappers. When it comes to using her own voice (sometimes even in French), the same can be said, more or less, of the four other spoken word tracks. However, she does comes off sounding a little too much like MIA on “Save Our Waters”, and Ja$e El Nio’s contribution is both trite and unnecessary.
The ‘A Different Day’ songs are charming enough with their twee She & Him stylings. And granted they have a subtle artistry that grows on you with repeated listen, but the bottom line is that they are too lightweight to do Starr’s obvious talent any credit. “Touch the Sky” and “It’ll Be Fine”, by way of contrast, showcase her considerable abilities as a modern songwriter, arranger and singer with their quirky beats and her idiosyncratic quavering vocals. They put Starr in a league with such current luminaries as St. Vincent.
Hip hop/rap has been around for well over 30 years now, so there is nothing really inherently new or startling about it. Starr is unquestionable very good at urban rhythms and spoke word stylings, but it is actually unfortunate that she has such a predilection for that genre because the balance of the music on ‘From Far Away’ stands as evidence that she is capable of something better – she could easily be an innovator, breathing fresh air into an increasingly stale musical landscape.