It can be hard to review music made by artists that you like. Sometimes I’m halfway through listening to a record and I think, “am I enjoying this on its own merit, or am I enjoying it because I just like this person’s sound?” I felt this way listening to Okay Kaya’s second album, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself. I stumbled across Kaya’s music through her contribution to King Krule’s ‘Slush Puppy’, and thought her previous record, Both, deserved much more attention than it received. It featured some excellent songs; tracks like ‘IUD’, ‘Dance With U’ and ‘Habitual Love’ have this minimal quality with simple, melancholy melodies that are built on in varying musical forms – from barely-there folk to synth-pop. The starkness of the songs could also be its undoing though – some tracks work much better than others, so my question ahead of WTLPI was: would this album be an expansion upon this sound, or a reiteration of it?
The album’s singles didn’t shed much light on this question. ‘Ascend and Try Again’ and ‘Baby Little Tween’ are familiarly intimate, skeletal compositions, yet new directions showcasing off-kilter keys and alt-rock are explored on ‘Asexual Wellbeing’ and ‘Psych Ward’ respectively. Satisfyingly though, the constant among these new songs is the bluntly personal nature of the lyrics, something that worked so well on Kaya’s earlier songs. For instance, the first verse on the album includes “mood riding / riding on your dick / the only vice I’ve left / I will get sick of it / I still smoke cigarettes / look at the internet”. This diaristic detail of one’s relationships and feelings appeals to my sensibilities and happily, much of this album is easy to enjoy.
As on Both, the stripped-back and short nature of Kaya’s songs allows her to build upon them in a wide range of musical directions. ‘Insert Generic Name’ in its lyrical appeal to a disinterested boyfriend is a lovely, intimate song, as is ‘Overstimulated’, with both building upon simple guitar chords with gentle drums and keys. ‘Mother Nature’s Bitch’ is the shortest track here but it’s another highlight – Kaya’s sense for comedy among the melancholy is still very much present, and the sarcastic laughing juxtaposed with the 80s pop backdrop is a charmingly weird and amusing touch. Likewise, the suspended keys of ‘Guttural Sounds’ combined with its somewhat comically miserable words do a nice job of simultaneously communicating personal struggle while offering a new take on the “if you can’t handle me at my worst” phrase.
Like Both though, WTLPI can suffer from inconsistency. I find that artists who rely on minimalism can create music that is incredibly captivating at its best, but at their weaker moments the songs are a bit, well, thin. There are a string of songs in the latter half that are somewhat forgettable; ‘Givenupitis’, ‘Helvesesen’ and ‘Stonethrow’ fall into this category. Even on repeated listens they offer little to anchor themselves to the memory, and give the impression that this would have made a stronger EP largely driven by songs in the album’s first half. And, taken as a whole, the album is somewhat devoid of truly great songs – something that couldn’t be said for Both. ‘Symbiosis’ is one of few highlights in the latter part of the record, but it doesn’t have the compelling lyrical or musical nature of ‘IUD’ or ‘Dance With U’.
Yet, I think it’s telling that having struggled to connect with a lot of last year’s releases, I’ve had no problem repeatedly playing WTLPI over the last few weeks. Like the aforementioned King Krule, or an artist like Mitski who has a similar knack for personal, relatable and snappy songs, Kaya has a beguiling presence which means even the less well-crafted songs still have merit.
Repeated plays made it easy for me to answer my original concerns. Yes, I have a thing for this sound, but beyond that, Okay Kaya is a charismatic artist who makes Watch This Liquid Pour Itself very replayable. But while there’s plenty to like here, especially in the first half of the record, there isn’t a lot to love. I think her best work is yet to come.
Words by Tom Burrows