On SAP, Okay Kaya’s Art Pop Feels Human

The Norwegian-American Multi-hyphenate handles existentialism and desire with peculiar humor and gentleness on third LP

Music Reviews Okay Kaya
On SAP, Okay Kaya’s Art Pop Feels Human

“Sap reminds me of the bodily functions I need to remember to do, like sleep. One might say it ‘resinates.’”

There’s little doubt that Kaya Wilkins, the multidisciplinary artist behind Okay Kaya, has a sense of humor. On her last LP, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, tracks like “Psych Ward,” “Asexual Wellbeing,” and “Guttural Sounds” reinforced her knack for injecting astute humor into her sonically whimsical creations. But as her quip above shows, her strongest skill is her acute capacity to draw associations and run with them.

Take the first track from new record SAP, “Mood into Object Personified:” “Like a newborn building, I take up space / This splayed exoskeleton / Scaffolding to keep your spirits low…” The curious patchwork of association that leads one to the phrase “newborn building” is an exciting psycho-spatial web. It would be one thing if she left the metaphor there; instead, she runs with it through the whole song. This is bedroom pop at its most artistic: generated from the inner mechanics of Wilkins’ mind, produced initially in isolation, cartographing the intersection of experience and emotion. That mix of profundity and absurdity is bound to get a laugh.

Over two albums and two mixtapes, Okay Kaya’s gift for obscure metaphor and forward-thinking structures made her an appealing figure in today’s art-conscious alternative pop. While her production and silky voice are as ethereal as ever on SAP, it would be hard to call it sleepy. Even a song as foggy as “Origin Story” commands attention as Kaya looks back in resentment of her own origin, stating “I am scum / I am cum” and “Wish I came / From no one.” Dread is not new to Wilkins’ project, but between “Origin Story” and “Jazzercise,” she covers all her existential bases. Speaking casually: “Did you know / Without the ego / There is no narrative?” and following that up with “May as well Jazzercise your life away,” Wilkins soothes her nerves with comical aerobics.

High point “Inside of a Plum” visualizes a ketamine therapy session. Franziska Aaigner’s cello augments the warped reality Wilkins envisages, one where her orgasm is best described as “scuba diving in space.” Aaigner is just one of over a dozen collaborators on SAP, figures who Wilkins invited into the picture once it became safer to do so. They range from the familiar indie stalwarts like Adam Green (“In Regards to Your Tweet”) to emerging New York art-pop figures like Bryndon Cook (“Pearl Gurl”) to lauded composers like Eli Keszler (“Like a Liver”). “In Regards to Your Tweet” is another standout, with a stock groove underpinning an inviting song, betraying a sense of longing for companionship and a better mood. Green’s vocals against Wilkins’ suggest a universality in these feelings. With the divergent skill sets her collaborators offer, nothing on the record feels too similar. Kaya Wilkins’ distinctive voice and production help the record remain grounded. Her collaborators never steal the limelight.

SAP does not contain a single bad song, but the record is lengthy. The 15 unique tracks offer their own vignettes over 48-and-a-half minutes. The music is somehow both recondite and relatable, inducing some disorientation. It’s challenging to sit in that disorientation for over three-quarters of an hour. Fortunately, Wilkins makes that disorientation oddly cozy with her whimsical melodies and gentle vocals. But, SAP is one or two tracks too long. While the beauty in each track makes it hard to imagine which tracks could be foregone, SAP’s length and intellectual weight make each listen a big but rewarding undertaking. The record ends on “Weltzschmerz,” a literary term describing the melancholy that arises from the disconnect between lived experience and imagined perfection. After other weighty tracks, “Weltzschmerz” is a harrowing ending, but its New Wave stylings offer drama unlike any other track on SAP, demarcating the end with brilliant clarity. It’s a graceful end to a beautiful record.

Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Slumber Mag, Merry-Go-Round and Post-Trash. He is currently a student in Philadelphia. He lives on Twitter @bigugly

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