Mkaio – A Far Off Horizon (2012)

Long time coming, for which I apologise, Mkaio’s A Far Off Horizon LP.


“Deep in the mountains of Hawai’i, buried under pine needles and brush, a cracked and worn cassette tape was found.”

Uh oh. This is a snippet from the rather length description that Mkaio has written about his album on its Bandcamp page; I’m not a fan of artists waxing lyrical about their own work and writing heady, poetic descriptors, it just sounds ridiculous. I don’t want to sound particularly damning but that single paragraph and the album art (seen above) have definitely been a contributing factor in my avoidance of this review. That and the rather inordinate length of 1 hour and 17 minutes.

Admittedly, it’s not a dreadful start with the title track opening, but there is a long way ahead. It and the followup “The First Kiss” are rather woozy, stereotypical chillwave tunes with clear synths and a distinct warmth, but do feel a bit distant. “The Gold Was On You” begins to introduce the vocals that we find littered intermittently throughout, and that chillwave sound begins to become even more ensconced. It really is painfully obvious that this is a bedroom-produced piece and sadly that ship has sailed, that fad has passed; now it just feels kind of cheap and cheesy. But it’s ok, because the track is nicely rounded off to the gentle lapping of waves on the shore.

“Happiness is smoke in my lungs

Gimme just one toke and I’m done”

starts “Tried and True” in a quasi-rapping style which might not actually be that bad if not for the fact that it, like most of the tracks on this album, spins out for far, far too long. Over 6 minutes of the same riff and (clichéd) repeated lyrics is quite dull. But this first half isnt all bad, there are a couple of decent tracks; “Summer Heart” is a rather relaxed instrumental track that breaks the album up quite nicely with its easygoing beats, and “Light At The End”, although long, has some sweet, circular synths that evoke those sunlight seashore memories I think this album is sort of angling for. The second half begins with a track so drenched in the chillwave aesthetic it’s almost stifling; sadly what it also brings with it is once again that semi-rapping approach to the lyrics and some faux record scratching faintly in the background; frankly it’s downright cheesy and every second makes me understand where this album is coming from less and less.

It doesn’t make sense that tracks like that can be followed up by other tracks like “Fall For You” which are actually well done, toned down and have a modicum of restraint and intelligently designed beats. The vocals are absolutely the weakest part of this release so when they’re even just a little obscured by reverb as they are here they are actually tolerable. Then again, as I understand it, the tracks here were recorded over an extensive period of time, possibly two or three years, and it really does show. Despite that, “Brush of the Cheek” continues in a good vein for another few minutes with a purely instrumental track; repetitive for sure but pleasant and soothing.

“Maui” returns to the side of the album that once again makes no sense and causes it to lose all sense of cohesion; unintelligible baby gurgles alongside bright synths? And then it’s chased up by “Is This Love”, some kind of half baked Bob Marley reinterpretation which does absolutely no justice to the classic in any way. I have a very cynical approach to tracks like these, where people take material other people have done already (and frequently done very well) and adapt it for their own devices, simply because so frequently it just does not work, much like here. The vocals aren’t bad, sure, but it just sounds so cheap, the electronics really denigrate the music. Fortunately the end is in sight, but we do have to get over an 11 minute closer before then.

“A Prelude” is a nice ambient interlude to segue us into the final tracks, and it actually moves pretty gracefully into the terrible “Sunsets”, which is really depressing. The rapping, why. It just is absolutely not necessary and I’ll never understand why he chose to take that angle on so many of the tracks, it’s quite honestly embarrassing. The actual content, musically, is actually decent, and that’s what pisses me off about this entire album; there’s some potentially good tunes buried in here that are just smothered by mediocre singing. Lastly, we come to the aforementioned 11 minute closer “Adagio For Jen” which, once again, takes a turn for the frustrating as it spins out delicate synth drones across its duration. It’s actually a really nice way to round the album off, I’m just saddened that it couldnt be more like this or at the very least somewhat more consistent throughout.

It’s too long, too tryhard, perhaps even a little bit full of itself. I never really felt that I knew where the album was coming from and truth be told I was pretty overwhelmed at the content and how inconsistent it was; it’s clear that this was produced over an extensive period of time because some tracks are obviously much more polished than others and have a very different personality to them. It doesnt come together well but there is room for improvement, and it’s not entirely terrible, but I’m just not digging it.