Text: Paul van der Zalm
In January Robin Kester made a brief return to her home town of Groningen from Rotterdam as part of ESNS. During the side program, she gave a performance at the Plato record shop and there we saw many music lovers notice that a long line had already formed outside in the cold (and that they therefore missed the show). This is not surprising, as Kester has already made a name for herself. What is remarkable, however, is that the album released last week is only her debut, although she also made a convincing entry with the mini-album This Is Not A Democracy in 2020.
As with the latter, she once again worked closely with Marien Dorleijn, leader of the band Moss, for this album.
The promotional statement for her participation in Popronde 2018 said: “Hiding and revealing, music as self-analysis. Behind Robin Kester is not only the person, but also a complete band, unexpected melodies and incantatory sound effects.” and this is still true. Expect dreampop with a twist, with Kester often whispering, sometimes high-pitched, sometimes low-pitched, but always intriguing.
For me, this is particularly evident in the beautiful and mesmerising lead track Cat 13, where she sings “I’ll be waiting in the car // It’s fine // I’m watching the cat in the mirror // Avoiding strangers”. Musically, it is similar to Courtney Barnett, for example, with Kester alone on seven different instruments. The opening track Fries and Ice Cream is of a different order. It opens with an aggressive rhythm and synths that briefly catch you off guard and may make you think you’re dealing with an 80s band, but this is not representative of the rest of the album. As for Leave Now, which follows, and which was previewed on BBC6 at the end of March 2022, it’s fair to say that it is. The inspiration for this track came from a chaotic trip to Vietnam, about which Kester sings in a repetitive cadence over a nice drum loop and undulating bass. Nostalgic feelings resulting from some unpleasant experiences lead to Infinity Song, a nonetheless uptempo song in which Kester shows that she can also sing like Weyes Blood.
Most of the songs on the album are between 2 and 4 minutes long. At 4:51, the lullaby Goodnight Argus is an exception in terms of length; however, over a minute is devoted to an instrumental outro that follows a neat arrangement of alternating vocal lines. This is how you want to be sung to sleep!
The accessible uptempo song “Blinds” also has these beautiful vocal lines. Here the outro is formed by a guitar that sounds like a tearing saxophone (which would have been another option). Like “Cat 13”, “Infinity Song” and “Fries and Ice Cream”, this song was co-produced by Bristol-based Ali Chant, who has an impressive pedigree; he has previously worked with Yard Act, Sorry, Dry Cleaning, Aldous Harding, Squirrel Flower and Soccer Mommy. His influence is clearly audible, as these songs rise qualitatively just a little above the rest.
I would also like to draw attention to two other tracks: in Skinny Kids, a nice carpet of sounds is laid down with dubbed vocals on top. And Zwanzig Zwanzig is a crazy and strange instrumental track like The Murder Capital could do; on this track, Kester and Dorleijn let loose nicely.