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Arts & Culture, Reviews

Okay Kaya bends genre to explore melancholic humor

Singer-songwriter uses vulnerability to purge personal trauma, explore natural world

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 13, 2020

Folk-pop artist Okay Kaya explores personal trauma in her second studio album, “Watch This Liquid Pour Itself.”

Okay Kaya’s second studio-length album is a cathartic recollection and release of intimate memory. “Watch This Liquid Pour Itself,” released Jan. 24, pushes Kaya’s genre-bending sound further than past experiments; here, she oscillates between moments of wistful, folkish R&B and bullish disco.

Kaya Wilkins, better known by the moniker “Okay Kaya,” found artistic inspiration in Hippocrates’ theory of the four humors for her newest project. In an interview with Garage, she revealed that she focused on the black bile that the Greek physician associated with feelings of melancholy. Through “Watch This Liquid Pour Itself,” Kaya seeks to perform a metaphorical exorcism of this parasitic mucus-like substance.

The 30-year-old Norwegian singer divulges an emotionally candid personal history in her newest project, which can only be characterized as capricious and whimsical. The recollection of memory serves as a sort of multivalent look into Kaya’s psyche — a catalog that doesn’t shy away from historical wounds and their residual tenderness.

Despite its many directions, the artist’s project is assured in its autobiographical meditation. It is a pointed attempt to rid the body of these fleeting memories through musical documentation. “Every time I write a song it feels like I threw up,” the artist explained of her purgative writing process.

Kaya’s soft, airy voice sits over a hypnotic guitar strum in the album’s second song, “Ascend and Try Again.” Verse and chorus flow effortlessly into one another, following the guidance of Kaya’s melodic speak-singing: “If there’s too much pressure / You need to stop and / Ascend and try again,” she sings. The folky tune ostensibly delineates the album’s aims: Kaya’s haunting voice ascends over past trauma so that she can too.

She reflects more blatantly on her past experiences of hurt in “Psych Ward.” “You can peel an orange however you please / In the psych ward (In the psych ward) / Throw away the cup, better swallow the pill / In the psych ward (In the psych ward)” she hums in this sardonic yet playful reflection on her hospitalization.

Here, too, Kaya extends beyond the muted tradition of bedroom pop with more conviction than ever before. As she sings, her idiosyncratic soft sound is supported by an electric guitar reminiscent of Courtney Love’s band, Hole. In her juxtaposition of fruit and pills, Kaya conjures facetious images of lightness and trauma.

In these moments of genre experimentation, Kaya seems to find strength in her unapologetic personal purge. The album’s stand-out interlude, “Mother Nature’s Bitch,” falls at the halfway point. As Kaya reflects on her subservience to the natural world in the dancey minute-and-a-half tune, her production adopts a sort of neo-disco optimism that diversifies the doleful tone established in earlier tracks.

She continues to explore the natural world in “Symbiosis,” which employs scientific motifs as a vessel for understanding human romance. Over dreamy and raw percussion and strings, the singer professes to her lover the type of “symbiosis” that their love could instill. The relationship becomes an Eden-like landscape for Kaya: “There’ll be no more deficiencies / We’ll have sugars, minerals / Everything we need / We’ll be lush, delicious,” she sings.

It is only when Kaya falls out of this experimental practice that her lyrics feel less resonant. The bedroom pop style, characteristic for its underproduced casual sound, doesn’t seem to serve the album well. The digestibility of tracks like “Insert Generic Name,” where Kaya lists names of ex-lovers in a lovestruck teenage spirit, feel adolescent among Kaya’s more profound moments of raw, punky incantation.

Though the homemade gestures of some tracks feel pedantic, “Watch This Liquid Pour Itself” most often employs that folk-like, DIY quality to its advantage. Kaya’s bravery in genre and lyricism lend to an exciting, discursive project that works to redefine modern notions of pop and intimacy.

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