A few months back this curious CD quietly came out on Psy-Harmonics, an Australian music label that primarily releases electronic and ambient music. The group, Mimesis, is the seed of Melbourne based producer Simon Polinski who is responsible for the core of the music, which is synthesizers and programming. He enlists a few other musicians for further accompaniment and The Church’s Steve Kilbey provides all of the vocals with his unique voice that catapults this album and seals the recording with a shaman’s touch. Art Imitating Life, in short, is a well nigh eighty minute, six song collection of dark and turbulent electronic ecstasy. The release is not electronic in any kind of traditional sense though as the songs also feature a fair amount of organic instruments and live instrumentation that are skillfully scattered all over the place among the tracks.
The album opens up formidably with a synthesizer rattle and an eerie laugh from Kilbey. The song, “The Beginning,” then plummets into a whirling soundscape. In the background are what sound like periodic drops of water into the sink and lush washes of keyboard. Steve Kilbey’s vocals enter into the picture and he recites a surreal story where he assumes the role of two characters. The music plays on in the background like a soundtrack during a particularly apprehensive moment in a film. In the lyric, the two figures encounter each other on holiday and banter back and forth. One of the characters seems to be telling the other of a scenario where his reality appears to be distorted, as in a dream. After the discursive passage, Kilbey says “Is that the end,” and then he answers himself, “No, it’s the beginning,” and the track mysteriously finishes.
Art Imitating Life is an enigmatic album. “Kuala Lumpur 1983,” alone supports this statement. With a driving tribal beat, echoing keyboards, and the uncomfortable lyric one can see that this is an album that reveals itself, if at all, only after multiple listens. Even then, the myriad secrets embedded in the interior of the music still seem to be locked away. There are countless strange lines such as “January/We scraped the resin from the cylinders of the plane.” It’s incredible material here. The album is one of those rare recordings that one can listen to over and over again and still pick up on new sounds, whether they be instrumental or lyrical, upon each listen. Two-thirds of the way in, the song undergoes a sudden shift. The rhythm increases along with the shift in tension and then double bass and Spanish guitar enter into the mix, providing a more anxious tempo.
“Matthews Sends His Regards” is a beautiful song filled with an almost frightening aura. It begins slowly and then migrates towards a more spiritual plateau. The track is almost dissonant with exquisite touches of piano and a subtle use of electric guitar. There is an equal sense of both hope and dread carried throughout that are held together by means of a steadfast drone as the song unravels. In great form Kilbey says, “I bought you flowers/Did you like the thorns?/Took you to the lake/ You were tempted by the swans/Bought you a piece of steak/Did you like the horns?” The surreal nature of the lyrics blends in seamlessly with the music.
This review is an inadequate snapshot of three rather complex songs amongst a necessary six. The entirety of Art Imitating Life is at once bewildering yet it is also wholly intriguing, more so as the songs become more familiar. The songs flow together extremely well, but also stand apart as individual pieces. However, it seems that this record was meant to be listened to in one sitting. It is a marvelous release and the songs certainly feel eternal. “You can’t really think on eternity as such,” Kilbey says in the last track, “Fin,” but if you can track down this masterpiece, you will not be disappointed.