KMRU, “Peel”

Nairobi-based master experimenter Joseph Kamaru (KMRU) draws gut-wrenching emotional sound-blood out of a stone-faced greyscale palette. A barely-melodic hum of hushed echos and distant static seemingly hovers in mid-air for an hour, moving in its stillness. Like a symphonic orchestra of wind and rain, KMRU conducts vast constellations of pathos and movement across the stillness of frozen time.

As I stepped into the icy water of the San Francisco Bay, the sun was setting over the smoke from wildfires to the north and east. I had brought my headphones and put on Peel. It’s the sound of a dying sun splashing its last pink tendrils across the simmering water. Hissing heat glows in cooling chrome hues on the surface, mourning, elegiac. The sky and the sea are competing for attention on their respective wavelengths, sending staticky radio signals with cryptic stories of hope and loss.

It feels like KMRU is trying to paint a giant tapestry of a vast sonic cosmos, but the edges keep fraying and dissolving just as he’s weaving it. Purely self-contained and self-referential, it’s a quixotic musical map by Borges’ proverbial emperor, the empire at a 1:1 scale of the empire. Seemingly from a single sparse loop of static and distant bells, we get several long, soaring portraits on the scale of mountains, oceans, glaciers, planets.

Few electronic ambient composers dare for the cinematic extremes of Charles Ives symphonies composed for choirs on mountaintops–KMRU deftly rises to the challenge. Neither too cloying nor too humble, it’s an essential tonic for an uneasy equanimity. Finally as a sort of closing overture, the side-long title track “Peel” comes gushing out and fully submerges you under its cold waves. You’ll feel like you’re drowning in your own skull.

Fewer still are the active composers who achieve such poised, mournful tones hidden at the very margins of perceivable change. At the time of this writing, only Abul Mogard, Yoshi Wada, and Eleh come to mind. Just to take the grandiosity up a few more notches, a download from the artist’s page comes with the bonus of an hour-long continuous mix of the album you just heard.

It’s a musical K-hole, and once you’re in, you’re never fully out.