I thought I had the measure of Rococochet a few minutes into “Let Your Body”, a soothing opener of polyrhythmic ivories, mallets and skins that slowly unfurls to reveal increasingly vivid jazz-infused colours. Even as other, unexpected timbres join – mellotron, synth and backing vocals, the tone and atmosphere hold steady, and I assumed charted the course for the rest of the record. I was entirely wrong.
Leah Kardos has featured a handful of times on ACL over the past couple of years, but in cameo roles – on remix and compilation releases from the reliably impressive Bigo & Twigetti. The London-based composer’s third solo release merits a full and bright spotlight, illuminating an enchanting blend of the compositional, the historical and the whimsical. The record’s concept is a reimagining of the mid-18th century Rococo artistic movement that originated in Paris, resplendent in its florid, asymmetric rejection of the Baroque style. The playfulness that helped define this period finds a comfortable home in the hands of the composer. Second track “Ro Coco Shay” is built from jaunty layers of melodious mellotron, evoking fairgrounds, haunted houses and video games – and interrupted by applause from an unseen crowd.
Indeed, historical context notwithstanding, the spirit of renowned and similarly playful video game composer Grant Kirkhope buzzes enthusiastically through several of the early tracks, as we are whisked through genres and settings across the tightly formed eight tracks. “Cat’s Eye” floats above the clouds depicted in the LP’s cover, its airy and pastel-shaded synth tones bereft of percussive stranglehold, and imparting a tale of wonder and discovery straight out of a children’s picture book. “My Cumulus Veil” is a more sombre partnership of mellotron and sax, the soothing timbres caressing each other but offering enough space for a subtly sinister presence to emerge. The same unease at times pervades the brief, fantastical interlude of “Malio Malio”.
Kardos’s unique sound is divined by a fascination with psychoacoustics, improvisation and the element of chance – the use of dice and the Oblique Strategies cards of Eno and Schmidt. It is furthered by her choice of instruments. The foundation is laid by keys and built up by percussion and wind instruments – vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel and sax. These help establish the jazz tones of Rococochet while imbuing many passages with a hypnotic levity.
We are lowered gently to the ground only from the penultimate track. The sublime “Little Phase” is this otherwise bright record’s penumbra, a soft and plodding piano in time welcoming the initially gentle incursion of strings. After a pause, drums return to offer guidance, while textural vocals from Kardos lend unexpected sobriety to the record’s most weighty piece. We then return from heady Parisian artistry to a cold contemporary coda (“Somnia Dub”), a liminal passage of spacious vibraphone notes, unsettling natural sounds and an expected beat that stir us gently from this fantastical, vivid dream. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)