It can be a slippery slope to make music that not only borrows from your influences, but on first listen, can sound nearly identical to them. This is a conundrum faced by many musicians, as without having your own unique take on the genre, you stand to sound like an inferior copycat and risk being forgotten to the recesses of time. But without influences, what direction do you follow?
Of course, this assumes that you wish to be remembered, which isn’t always the case. At times it’s best just to make honest music and forget about who’s going to listen to it. Whether it sounds like a copycat is up to the listener, and is ultimately irrelevant, particularly if the music you’re making is actually quite good.
Enter Zack Slavkin, a Colorado-based trip-hopper, producing hypnotic downtempo beats under the moniker Kinack. Ondas, his debut full-length album, is an organically driven project, drawing inspiration from established downtempo/trip-hop acts Emancipator and Bonobo. The similarities to Emancipator are what attracted me to the album on first listen, and still persist after numerous listens.
On its own, Ondas stands on a solid foundation of steady beats and ancillary organic percussion. The beats are generally well-placed in the mix, and serve to support the soft melodies rather than overtake them. While a primarily electronic offering, Ondas features some well-performed acoustic instrumentals as well – specifically with the subtle use of jazz guitar and horn sections on a few of the tracks. “Idea for a Brand New World“, in particular, is reminiscent of the Flashbulb; conjuring images of sprawling landscapes and blood red sunrises.
This imagery is easily the best part of the music, and serves to append an overtly natural feel to the album. Much like Emancipator (and, yes, I apologize for drawing these sharp comparisons), the compositions are addictively hypnotic – bringing about a soundtrack-for-your-life feel.
Kinack is a truly gifted producer, and should be commended for his grasp of the relatively new genre. Where the album stumbles, however, is in its electronic instrument performances. It exhibits a quality that (being a musician myself) simply irks me: electronic (or MIDI) instruments that are meant to impersonate real-world instruments.
Endemic to this brand of downtempo music is the use of real-world instruments to supplement the electronically produced beats and pads. Some musicians opt to utilize sampling of other material with a certain instrument, or in more extreme cases, outright performances. This is due to the inability of electronic instruments to properly articulate the human element that is naturally present in real-world performances.
While some sampling and instrumental performances can be heard on certain tracks in Ondas, the consistency of these instrumentals across the 14-track album is generally lacking. Certain string sections, though well written, sound thin and computerized, making it clear that they were created with a synth. The piano, in some instances, sounds relatively flat and lifeless, which is a symptom of countless electronic piano patches.
This isn’t to say that the album isn’t worthy of your time. I personally had a hard time turning it off, as it functions well as both background music and for dedicated listening sessions. It’s difficult not to draw comparisons to other artists Kinack is inspired by, though at times he does a great job distancing himself from those same inspirations. Ondas runs slightly long, but is one of the more enjoyable finds on Bandcamp at the moment. For some solid organic trip-hop, this album hits the mark.
Take a listen to my home-brewed instrumental/electronic/indie album
"Where Were We When" and download it for as many coconuts as you can spare.
Coconuts are delicious, though their milk tastes like pond water.