Resident Advisor
18 July 2017

Karen Gwyer
(Don’t Be Afraid)
3.8 stars

album artwork Karen Gwyer Rembo

Occupying the spaces between weirdo body music and kaleidoscopic, live improv techno, Karen Gwyer’s output has always been as individual as it is danceable. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan and now based in London, Gwyer is a relatively late-starter in music production, which only adds to her charms. Having used a marriage breakdown as a reason to escape into the experimental, psychedelic hinterlands of Britain’s music scene, Gwyer has spent the past five or so years dabbling in acid, avant-garde, noise, house and techno, depending on her mood, and the gear she’s playing around with at the time.

Rembo, her first album on the UK label, Don’t Be Afraid is an excellent example of her bendy, melodic, colourful approach to music making. There are layers of Helena Hauff’s complex textures as well as Drexciya’s foreboding and pummelling beats across the eight tracks, but the style shimmering, odd, hard is all her own. This album (her third, after Needs Continuum and Kiki the Wormhole, both from 2013) feels like it’s designed as much for the brain and the mind’s eye as the feet. Way less lo-fi and analogue sounding than the bendy, trippier stuff she did on Opal Tapes (Kiki the Wormhole), and shorter than the beautiful, long techno soundscapes on her 2014 No Pain In Pop EP (“New Roof”) she’s moved away from noise and drone tropes towards slicker, digital and more immediate dancefloor sounds.

On Rembo, she shows off her broad approach to body music, taking it into pummelling, rushy techno territory (“He’s Been Teaching Me To Drive”), dropping in an oddball digital symphony (“It’s Not Worth The Bother”) and adding a 90s Detroit house throwback, with a computer game synthline (“The Workers are on Strike”). She’s always had fun with her track titles in the past (who knows what the joke was with “Lay Claim to My Grub” or “No Moondoggies for 3 Weeks”), and this one’s no different. This time the titles might give clues to her politics as well as nicely shifting things away from the po-faced machismo that can sometimes dominate her field of work. For example, the slow-build, kosmische opener “Why Is There A Line In Front of The Factory” is answered with the next track, “The Workers Are On Strike”. And “He’s Been Teaching Me To Drive” replies to the question on the track before, “Why Does Your Father Look So Nervous”; a pair of tracks which make up two standout moments on the album, where complex and fun kicks and claps lead into more insistent, higher BPM spasms. It’s a moreish album of hedonism with moments of softness, showing again that she’s a smart artist who can master many machines and styles.

Read the review on Resident Advisor, here