Klein’s offbeat singular vision continues to defy classification. Her acclaimed, self-released records - Lagata, Only and CC - along with Tommy for Hyperdub and her theatre musical Care, have allowed glimpses into Klein’s uniquely spirally perspective on vocal abstraction, disarming experimentalism and pop culture wonderment. Yet these chapters have also served as masks to conceal the artist’s own personal crises of self-belief, misrepresentation and belonging.
An 18-month writing process led to her new album Lifetime. It’s an unexpectedly literal body of work which Klein compares to “giving someone your diary.” Lifetime embraces the inevitable cycles of existence, phasing through moments of brutality, vulnerability, estrangement and unexpected fortitude. Every sound in Lifetime is intentional, every influence —from ‘King of Gospel Music’ composer James Cleveland, to early 18th century tonalities in the b side, the work of ‘race film’ pioneer Spencer Williams, the residue of the religious experience—is deeply personal. The 12 songs of the album are pieced together like a puzzle; seamless transitions connect each of its compositions in a reverse chronology, while every chord from every song is echoed someplace else. What’s been hinted at in Klein’s live performances is now realised in full for Lifetime. Less vocal work allows her to be even more expressive, and in eschewing a tendency towards brief, truncated sketches, each song serves as its own long conversational piece, committed to realities of a lived experience. The artist who once grappled with self-doubt has set about breaking the cycle of insecurity for others like her, while mindfully chipping away at the conventions of classical music.
Like its artwork, Lifetime addresses intersecting life cycles: the inner and outer selves, hypermodernity versus history, living nightmares and dream states, while seeking the light and darkness in both. Part 1 opens with unmistakable Klein flourishes on the title track. Gusty pads, anxious, frayed-edge static arcs, and craters of deep negative space, all of which melt down to the clean slate of “Claim It,” which is a tribute to embracing one's own blessings. “Listen And See As They Take” and “Silent” form their own microcosm, as the sound of crackling kindling burns backwards into imposing structures of distorted strings and disembodied marching drums, before returning to heat and ash again. “For What Worth”, in collaboration with sound artist and saxophonist Matana Roberts, explores the kinship between two artists whose shared exploration of lineage leads them both toward uncharacteristically sweet clarity.
Part 2 is further steeped in black expressive styles of the past. “Enough is Enough” links the Lifetime narrative to the broader diasporic black experience, inhabiting every chamber of a harmonica with ghostly notes of the present and past, as fragmented gospel chords reflect spiritual bonds between self and the divine. “We Are Almost There” begins the journey with nothing but the looped structures of multitude of voices. The drums and dischord of “Never Will I Disobey” wordlessly create the conditions for “Honour,” a near 10-minute composition where crossed boundaries and crossed wires are exposed in real time, and sharp expressions of hurtfulness, accountability and corrupted expectations are rendered beautiful in representational form, via sustained synth tones which hum, jab and flit in natural disharmony. The interlude “Camelot Is Coming” draws on the choir tradition to prelude the spoken word recounts the cycles of trauma and death that form “99.” Lifetime closes with the dystopian swirl of “Protect My Blood” a composition which details an excruciating rift, before blooming into serenity as it draws to a close.
Klein’s Lifetime is laid bare, from the end to the beginning, and cycled over again. From her place within her family, to their place within her, to viewing the fragility of culture through the lens of memory. It’s a lifetime, an embodiment of young livelihood, and an end as much it is a beginning.