The third album of Kat Burns’ KASHKA project, RELAX is an experimental record that marries orchestral folk with electro-pop to form something that has a foot in both urban life and the wide wilderness. Engineered at the aptly named Wildlife Sanctuary Sound in Grey County, Ontario, the album feels aware not only of the Canadian landscape but also its heritage too. The songs are rooted in history and memories so as to possess a timeless quality, as though the sensations and emotions conveyed have been being experienced for millennia on that very same land.
‘Float Away’ is a great example of this, the modern synths and traditional strings creating a rich, human track stripped of references to times or dates, instead favouring a universal simplicity that carries calm and comfort within its mighty grasp.
“Started out at the riverbed where we lay
while the smoke curled overhead, there we lay
filled our lungs with all the stories we’d been told to get us through the day”
Thematically, RELAX explores isolation and connection in various forms. Not only focused on a simple personal level, the record also considers wider feminist, cultural and racial aspects too, opening with expansive questions and slowly honing in to smaller concerns. “Where do we go / oh when we die?” Burns asks on ‘New Moon Blues’. “Do we become / all of the black in the night sky?” Tracks such as ‘Signs’ and ‘Holding Steady’ are more upbeat in terms of arrangement, more fierce in terms of lyrics. Both tracks feel rooted in personal and social justice, the former talking of breaking cycles and watching the fall of walls and silences, the latter a call to arms for the beaten down, a signal of strength and determination.
“Now I’m kicking in the glass walls
learning how to stand tall
learning how to speak
I’ll hold my own now
lately I’ve been holding steady, I’ve been holding steady
and all the time we spend to forgive our choices
echoes all the time we need to collect our voices”
‘Wild Things’ feels like a renunciation of the complicated trappings of modern life, positing a return to some previous simplicity where today’s barriers and challenges are not yet formed, and closer ‘Reset’ takes this a step further. As the title suggests, the track proposes a fresh start, boiling down our existence to the basest elements as a way to reconnect to real life and the people around us, as though in recognising we are all skin and blood and bone, we might realise our common existence.
RELAX feels like Burns working through the issues of contemporary Canadian life, how we live positively and responsibly, challenging the privilege of others while questioning our own in the hope of healing history and creating a more just and harmonious future. The album is available now from the KASHKA Bandcamp page in a variety of formats, including a special edition that comes with a hand-sewn zine full of lyrics, drawings and photos, complete with risograph printed cover.
P.S. KASHKA recently visited the good folks at Southern Souls to record a live session, producing a series of great videos such as this for ‘signs’ below: