There has never been a time where the conversation about mental health, needs to be louder. Any loss of life is awful, and taking the matter into your own hands will never be any less tragic. But, with the recent deaths of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and now, the loss of Keith Flint, already very raw in the hearts and minds of musicians and fans alike, it is time to stop trivialising the matter of suicide and take affirmative action, not as a society, but as fellow human beings. Forrest LaMaire aka Mr.Kitty understands the value of this conversation, and with his seventh release Ephemeral, the exact value of this conversation becomes all the more evident.
Years before the album was even announced, it was made no secret of his own battles with mental health issues. After a run of releasing five albums in as many years, and aiming for a sixth successive release, he burnt out, taking a sabbatical for a short while which pushed the triumphant evolution of his work, A.I., into 2017. Plaudits and critical acclaim were showered upon its release and walking into 2018, Mr.Kitty couldn’t have been better set to continue an upwards trajectory. But on the 1st February that year, that changed, when one of his closest friends chose to take his own life. Left confused and searching for answers, this devastating loss began a turbulent series of events, and the most prolific writing period Mr.Kitty has undertook to date. In between the soaring highs of performing at the renowned Wave-Gotik-Treffen and touring Europe, and the crushing lows of becoming yet another victim of the lowlives robbing musicians of their live equipment, the message that you are never alone was one kept being repeated.
Days after his friend’s death, Forrest uploaded a cover of Rihanna’s We Found Love, far more sombre and forlorn than its original counterpart, with the National Suicide Helpline number as its tagline. He later uploaded a cover of Linkin Park’s Crawling, on the anniversary of Chester Bennington’s passing, with the same number again, additionally with the Crisis Text Line for those in the States. He also performed at the San Antonio State Hospital for their patients, and into 2019, he released Empty Phases from the album as a single, with all proceeds going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, fittingly, on the anniversary of his friend’s death. The moniker of ‘suicidal synth-pop’ has even transitioned into ‘self-destructive synth-pop,’ while arguably still not a healthy description, is absolutely keeping in this mindset of affirmative action. With that in focus, and the biggest singular compendium of Mr.Kitty’s recorded work to date in hand, we look inside Ephemeral and where the mind of a musician now lies, whose boundaries have always dwelt within darkness.
First and foremost, avoiding the obvious notion of containing 30 tracks, this is not what you will expect from past Mr.Kitty albums. In fact, you could go as far as ripping up his playbook, and any preconceived notions of containing nearly two hours of brand new synth hooks, and gorgeous goth-pop sensibilities, although present and very much accounted for. Through out the full listen, the production is razor sharp, and very much cleaner than anything Forrest has orchestrated before. The endless ambience and reverb still swells and mesmerises, but is no longer drowning inside them, and finely tuned for every individual instance. His trademark heavily synthesized vocals are still a fixture, but they too have been hugely stripped down on many tracks, the more ‘human’ Mr.Kitty lending itself to a greater vulnerability and amplifying those tracks’ emotional response. And musically, Ephemeral pulls cues and influences never before seen in his previous works, breeding the most compelling, diverse music of his career.
From the get-go, Wait starts with a choral introduction, not unknown in his repertoire but the length of this introduction, followed by a lyrical, very direct address to his deceased friend, and the abundance of angelic pads and synth lines, almost gives an omnipresence at a wake, a disconcerting but cleverly realised concept. The fact that beyond a bass drum, often similar in rhythm to a heartbeat, Wait never builds sufficient momentum enough to transform into the soaring, ambient anthem it could’ve become, also fulfils its namesake to a tee. This isn’t what you’ve come to expect from Mr.Kitty. You have to wait. Following on, From Liquid also touches on back onto the trap exposition last explored on A.I., as does Empty Phases and Died On The Land, but it still feels foreign yet fresh in the larger discography of his music. The production value truly shines here, but the mourning wrapped inside uneasy calm, that transitions into explosive melodrama for its hook however, ranks From Liquid as one of Ephemeral’s finest moments.
Another thing that surprises from beginning to end is the sheer scope of dance elements incorporated. At times, you could be mistaken for listening to someone else entirely. Ranging from the barely breathing dubstep of Immurement, the downbeat disco of Trauma, the escapist trance of Melting Core and its skitterish counterpart Be Alive, the crazed industrial anarchy that is Bloodletting, and the screeching gabba crunch that proceeds Hornet, the pitch-perfect engineering of such a wide array of distinctive sounds and tempos cements Ephemeral as a rapturous listen at its apexes and Forrest’s extensive talents as a musician. There are of course stronger pop-focused ventures inside, like the bliss-soaked juxtaposition of I Want To Hurt Myself, the nostalgia rich Destruction of Us, and Puzzle Heart and Make It Right, featuring the album’s only collaborations, both with Japanese vocaloid artists, all contrasting a differing level of gloominess with one another, which would set them aside from the radio landfill given the chance.
For the true-to-roots fanbase, which undoubtedly will exist, some of his best work in the now fabled style adored by followers and critics alike, comes in the sublime The View Isn’t The Same, Disconnect Lover, 0% Angel, My Weak Side and Not Dead Yet, showing that no matter how wildly experimental Forrest wishes to be, there is still a love of producing the eerily beautiful, the hauntingly poignant, and the manically infectious that has made his past works so beloved. Yet as you process everything discussed here, there sits three anomalies, with Rain, and Sanctum of Ash, not willingly fitting conventions of genre, and the final, chilling acapella of I Did It All For You, perhaps testing waters for something far and removed from his music completely.
It feels bold to claim Ephemeral as the White Album of witch house, not in the literal sense of being a double album, but it is daring, dynamic, and defiant enough to warrant such a hallowed comparison. Packed with ups and downs, allegories of life then death, and happiness to sorrow, Mr.Kitty’s seventh opus not only alludes to the struggle with grief and mental health, but lives to serve a complex but engrossing metaphor for the human experience. Certainly, you won’t come out the same way you came in after those two hours has elapsed. It’s scary, after seven albums, it still feels we are nowhere close to unearthing the true extent of Forrest’s creative ingenuity. As a statement on just how good Ephemeral is mind, Mr.Kitty remains one of electronic music’s deepest and darkest provocateurs.
The Soundshark Selects… Ephemeral’s Top 5 Tracks
- The View Isn’t The Same – Ultravox once sang about dancing with tears in your eyes, and that is exactly what you’ll end up doing to this lachrymose floorfiller reminiscing about the memories of loved ones lost.
- From Liquid – The outpouring of anger whilst trying to make sense of it all, in this thrilling trap stomp, that alternates between serene calm and aggressive bravado, boasts one of Ephemeral’s most unique and catchiest hooks.
- Empty Phases – Another tearjerker, entangled well in trap, that tries to understand the advent of his friend’s suicide, is one of the most important tracks on this album, one of its best and you’ll defy yourself to not wail along with the cry of ‘You let me down.’
- Melting Core – This wonderfully executed trance burst replicates the pinnacle of the era exquisitely, the elation sweeping over like tidal waves, but contains among Ephemeral’s most poetic and saddening lyrics if you’re willing to dig through the heavy vocoder for them.
- 0% Angel – With yet another classic Mr.Kitty hook line, destined to be ranked amongst the best of his back catalogue, this saccharine-tinged, chiptune-fuelled tale of abusive relationships is as uncomfortable as it is unforgettable.
Ephemeral is out now on Negative Gain Productions, with limited physical releases also available on Bandcamp, and wider digital release forthcoming.
You can find everything Mr.Kitty through these channels:
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In memory of Kahlas Austin Stambaugh (1994 – 2018).
Call Samaritans or any mental health charity in your vicinity if you need a helping hand, or an unbiased voice to listen. They’re here if you need support where you think there is none.
Remember, you are never alone.