These days, “synth pop” has a bit of a bad name. In recent years, it's a genre tag that's started to suggest a certain amount of homogeneity: as a rule, you know to expect basic song structure, breathy female vocals, and maybe a music video where someone is lying down on some ruffled satin or velvet and looking vaguely tortured.
Friday April 5, however, marked potential change. The date marked the release of the prolific musician and producer Kitty’s new album ROSE GOLD, which, from front to back, uses synth pop as a diving board, inviting listeners to jump into its lush, unique world.
In 2018, we saw Kitty as one half of The Pom-Poms, a duo she formed with her husband Sam Ray (their self-described genre: “cheerleading music”). Alongside Ray she is a member of the band American Pleasure Club, and has also been making music under her own name for over a decade—her last release was 2017’s woefully underrated Miami Garden Club.
Kitty, therefore, is someone who seems to live and breathe music: for her, a synth-pop aesthetic simply forms a basis for experimentation; something to shape for her own means, rather than something she’s chasing and trying to jump aboard. After years in the business, she’s innately familiar with the level of craft it takes to engineer a pop song, and that serves ROSE GOLD enormously well. Its choruses run laps around your brain (listen to “medicine” once and try to forget it), and though throughout the album there are nods to pop, chillwave, emo, and hip-hop, all of these genres are brought together by a pervasively woozy, but cohesive synth sound.
It’s testament to Kitty’s skill as a producer that she’s able to take this many generic references and formulate them into something that sounds both interesting and consistent (she is responsible for all of ROSE GOLD’s production, though cites “a little help from sam ray here and there” on her Bandcamp page). As a result, ROSE GOLD is a record of many faces—and they all make complete sense.
Standout tracks include “strange magic,” which is grounded in a sultry, low groove reminiscent of Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” (this, I believe, is the highest possible compliment an electronic pop track can ever receive) and “kitty’s farm”—like if The 1975 had had the good sense to keep “The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme” instrumental only. At the tail end of the record, “the window” takes its cues from the sound of collaborators American Pleasure Club, and as a result it’s guitar-driven with a distinctive riff—but by the chorus, Kitty melts it down to a catchy, dreamy number which doesn’t feel at all out of place alongside the rest of the material. And even though there are many artists who are potentially alluded to on ROSE GOLD (Uffie, early Pity Sex, Charli XCX’s more experimental work), this record feels like the most fully realised reflection of Kitty’s personal artistry: not a mirror, but a prism, through which many different angles can be seen at once.
Compared with The Pom-Poms, and much of Kitty’s own last release Miami Garden Club, ROSE GOLD is a more laid-back listen. The opening track “counting all the starfish” in particular has a floaty feel—hearing it feels like the experience of being carried gently along the surface of water that glints in the morning light, easing us in to the rest of the album. Kitty’s technique for structure, highs and lows—evident on The Pom-Poms’ Noisey Mix as well as on this record—means that she never overdoes it, making sure to keep a foot hovering over the pedal at all times. One aspect where this is particularly well done is in the deployment of rap sections on the tracks. Kitty is a gifted rapper, but the rarity of rapped moments on ROSE GOLD mean that the ones which are here really shine, as Kitty’s sweet but clipped enunciation digs in like papercuts. And while ROSE GOLD sees her singing more than ever, the lyrical talents she honed as a rapper are on full show: truthful, funny, and sometimes sad, her lines always feel as though they slot perfectly together, as they ride these lazily giddy beats into a sunset all of Kitty’s making.
By putting the emphasis for her record on the “pop” part of “synth pop”—that is, on the aspect which takes the most honing and technical skill—Kitty has made something personal and accomplished, which feels like it totally enacts her vision. ROSE GOLD, therefore, is the combined result of smart instincts, and hard work: two principles which anchor every great musician. Kitty has been one for a long minute now, but this is definitive proof.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.