Ever wondered what you get when you cross industrial electronics ala Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy with the pop aesthetic of Cyndi Lauper or Kylie Minogue or Fiona Apple? Honestly, I haven’t either, not because I don’t think it could work. It just never occurred to me that one could, or should, cross the two. But hey, who am I to judge? When you put that delicate combination in the hands of a skilled artist like Kanga, there’s really only one way it could come out: satisfyingly good, which is exactly what You and I Will Never Die is.
Kanga is a lot of things to a lot of people. The LA based pop artist also dabbles (that’s putting it mildly) in remixing, working with artists like 3TEETH, clipping. (a personal favorite of mine), and Danny Blu, composing film scores, contributing to big name projects like the Insidious and Conjuring series, and engineering and production. Never seeming to be satisfied with one thing at a time, Kanga goes full steam ahead with all of these responsibilities as well as recording and touring behind an acclaimed debut, 2016’s self-titled release. On You and I Will Never Die, Kanga doubles down on what made her a breakout hit in the past: delicate, ethereal vocals that are not overdone but still command attention, light poppy hooks that sink in like barbed wire, and dark, gloomy industrial-tinged backdrops that smack of the old-school influences that shaped her. Equal parts brooding and danceable, the twelve tracks loop through a wide range of emotions and textures that speak on Kanga’s journey through a toxic relationship, while still being right at home on a noisy club dancefloor, blasted through open windows on a warm night drive.
Upon first listen to You and I Will Never Die, it is really easy to spot the influences that have built Kanga’s music. The darkwave and industrial elements are front and center, with driving, lightly distorted drum machines pulsing out a continuous loop of dance beats underneath throbbing bass and deep electronic washes. There is even a little bit of what, to me, sounds like the horror music elements popping in, but everything is balanced by the soft but commanding vocals. The production on all of this is spot on, which is what I really appreciate about it. Pop music and I don’t always get along for a number of reasons, but to me the biggest hinderance is that I find it very easy to overproduce a song, with the intention of trying to make it pop, but it all ends up sounding muddled. Everything fits in here. The hooks are sharp, but they are not in your face. There is a healthy amount of balance between beauty in the vocals and the lighter electronic melodies and the dark base coat underneath.
Obviously, the star of the show is Kanga’s vocals. Across all tracks, her storytelling ability is rooted in her simple but effective sense of melody and the finesse with which she delivers emotions. On tracks like “Home” and “Touch,” the story of the album shines from the elegant layers of voice stacked gently on each other and the poignant lyrics that convey conflicting feelings of desire and pain. The fact that several tracks vocal melodies and lyrics repeat over contrasting contexts, such as on “Prelude” and “Waiting” shows how smart and cohesive the songwriting here is and centers the story as the focal point. On “Ritual City” and “Violence,” her voice shifts from light crooning to something much more aggressive. Not harsh, but the tone shifts and the rest of the dynamics play off that in a brilliant and immersive way. There’s a lot of nuance here, and Kanga manages to deliver a wealth of textures and feelings almost effortlessly.
You and I Will Never Die is a pop album that I can really appreciate and sink my teeth into. For me, that doesn’t come around too often, but it ticks all the boxes I need it to: it’s dark but not overly so, it’s melodic but not overly so, it’s got great hooks, it’s got dynamic and textural contrasts, it’s got emotional depth without being saccharine. If it sounds like it might even be remotely up your alley, give it a shot. It certainly is unique among the massive amount of pop out there.