James Krivchenia Collages the Unwatched Beauty of YouTube on Blood Karaoke
The Big Thief drummer and producer’s second solo offering is a meticulous, poetic collection of unrecognized internet cultureMusic Reviews James Krivchenia
Aside from the band’s own critical acclaim, and their storied 2019, which saw the release of two great records (U.F.O.F. and Two Hands), Big Thief’s lineup yields a vast soundscape of personal triumphs: Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s songs became one of 2020’s most emotional releases, while guitarist Buck Meek’s Two Saviors was a touchstone of indie folk in 2021. Their own collective imprint reaches far across modern rock and is always urgent, emphasized by the band’s heavyweight 2022 masterpiece, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, and Lenker and Meek have passed the solo spotlight onto their drummer, James Krivchenia, for the release of his experimental sculpture, Blood Karaoke.
Formed through the limitless archive of YouTube videos, Blood Karaoke is an industrial undertaking, tiptoeing through the worlds of techno, quasi-grooves and background-music ambience while meshing them together. Krivchenia rendered these 14 songs through samples of unwatched videos spawned from random online generators, like PowerPoint presentations, videogame walkthroughs and dated news clips, turning them into floating, sometimes horrifying, documents of our living world. What Krivchenia established on his older records, especially 2020’s A New Found Relaxation, in which he made arrangements out of internet spa radio fragments, is that he understands how to take the mundane, feed it through synth rigs, and turn it into a distortion that keeps us on edge.
Opening track “Emissaries of Creation” catalyzes the entire record’s gist: a dance floor falling into a black hole. Beneath the terror of the song’s swarming static are irresistible grooves just waiting to be released. Krivchenia’s strongest trait as a world-builder is his ability to conceptualize restraint. Where his first record, You’re Useless, I Love You (Reading Group, 2016), was a gorgeous rush of intoxicating pop mutations, Blood Karaoke is a nervous, epic downward spiral of the weird, wonderful and forgotten poetry of social media. “Calendrical Rot” merges beautiful piano arrangements, background conversations and talk-box melodies, with a heavenly hum gliding atop it.
But it’s the record’s centerpiece, “The Science of Imaginary Solutions,” that becomes Krivchenia’s most brash, screaming juggernaut. The track sounds like a group of people on fire, with a lone, warped microphone bubbling amidst the chaos. Instrumental music always faces the challenge of transcribing emotions and harnessing resonance exclusively through sound, and Krivchenia articulates joy in the buoyant “Culture Complex” by transforming glittering synths into a pacing, cheering crowd. Instead of taking apart the stems of record crate gems, Krivchenia’s sampling offers access to the most underpopulated parts of the internet to create auditory memories. “God In Every Way” is pulsating, hardcore techno; album closer “Wall Facer” initially tracks as an industrial stalwart before winding down into a lush, atmospheric finale for a complex, meticulously constructed project.
Krivchenia’s sonic moveset is one of poetic, deliberate, skittering impulses, just like Big Thief’s. But Blood Karaoke takes his band’s curious, earthly blueprint and uses it to render a perfect composite of what our own phone-obsessed apocalypses could be beyond that: epileptic dancing on the edge of sharp, mangled, A.I.-generated thunderstorms. The record plays like a timely coda to the last two years, emphasizing how absorbed we are in our own fabricated personas, almost to the point that we are tethered to a machine that has become unrecognizable. That’s the beauty of sampling and collaging, how its muddied, sometimes claustrophobic presentation is a mirror of our own fixations, and Krivchenia admirably immerses himself in all of the chaos.
Matt Mitchell is a writer living in Columbus, Ohio. His writing can be found now, or soon, in Pitchfork, Bandcamp, Paste, LitHub and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @matt_mitchell48.