Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Joy Formidable

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith brings a human side to her metal-machine music

No one was more surprised about the rapturous critical response to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s breakthrough album EARS last year than Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith herself. Smith, the 30-year-old scholar of the rippling Buchla Music Easel synthesizer, also released generative piece Sunergy in 2016, with avant veteran Suzanne Ciani. But an unusually wide exposure for what used to be called “outsider” electronic music has only emboldened Smith’s ambitions on new LP The Kid (Western Vinyl), which is even more songful.

“I guess I wanted to go a step further with creating a story,” Smith says via phone from Glendale, Calif. “With EARS, my intention was to create an environment and scenery. I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller with music. I want it to feel like a full experience with characters and a full narrative.”

A master of textured analog synthscapes who layers her voice into soft mountains of harmony and counterpoint, Smith leaves The Kid open to interpretation, though it’s been suggested that her most forthright cycle yet traces a person’s life from birth to death.

Smith stresses that she doesn’t relate to the word “ambient,” a common descriptor of her music, which she respects but finds curious. She’s very conscious in her decision-making: “Does that get in the way of what I’m trying to say right there? Or does it help it?” she offers by way of example. But at the same time, “I let the creation itself tell me where it wants to go.”

She says finding joy is her ultimate goal, and who can blame her as an artist in this divisive time? But her music is as soothing as it is thought-provoking. “I think it’s impossible to fully control art,” says Smith. “It’s always a dance between putting in intention but accepting a surprise with it. That’s life, too.”

Dan Weiss