The Sunset Violent

Mount Kimbie are once again seeking transformation. Over the past 15 years, the UK duo of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos have swerved from post-dubstep to post-punk, techno to R&B, ambient garage to lo-fi pop, releasing DJ mixes and double albums, collaborating with James Blake and Jay-Z and King Krule and Travis Scott. Now they’re back with something slightly different: a gritty, shoegazy, post-rock album called The Sunset Violent. With help from new bandmembers Andrea Balency-Béarn and Marc Pell, Mount Kimbie dust off their guitars and turn up their distortion, hoping to become Stereolab for a new generation, an electro-rock outfit whose work is as familiar as it is obscure.

The road to Mount Kimbie’s revised sound has been winding. As underground electronic producers in the early 2010s, Maker and Campos’ experimental flair punctuated otherwise minimalist compositions: a time-warped acoustic guitar behind glassy ambient pads, arhythmic drums around synth keys. Their most recent album, 2022’s MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning, branched off into hazy R&B and hip-hop before morphing into muted, dubby club beats. Their defining work remains 2017’s Love What Survives, a new-age post-punk record heavy on overdriven guitars and grainy synths, a style well-suited to Maker and Compos’ habitual muffled abstraction.

Sleeker and safer than its predecessor, The Sunset Violent similarly provides a sturdy backdrop of fuzzy guitar and Korgs for Balency-Béarn and Maker’s melancholic vocals. The newly constituted four-piece sounds like if Sonic Youth or Young Marble Giants were wizards with the DAW, a band whose songs play like richly detailed dreams whose meaning may leave you scratching your head.

The strongest songs sparkle with a morose charm. On “Dumb Guitar” and “Shipwreck,” Balency-Béarn’s plainspoken singing wafts over murky lounge-pop, giving The Sunset Violent some much-needed friction. “Every day we’re eating out/Another date I’ll kill myself,” she deadpans on “Dumb Guitar.” Her wistful, unadorned voice is the closest thing the album has to an emotional center, especially with Maker playing the guileless sidekick role Oliver Sims perfected in the xx. It’s jarring to hear how much more alive King Krule’s baritone sounds on “Boxing” and “Empty and Silent,” how much defter his pen—a stunning feat for such a famed curmudgeon. Sometimes The Sunset Violent searches high and low for a pulse and just comes up empty.

Maker’s at his most confident on the spectacular “Fishbrain,” a song that blisters with bitterness and regret. The writing is cryptic but sharp, featuring fractured lines about bridges falling and “running out of films” to watch. When Mount Kimbie align their songcraft with a tension, a feeling, a perspective—no matter how prosaic or subliminal—their songs soar. It’s when they languish in repetitive patterns and dry melodies, like on “Got Me” and the opening half of “A Figure in the Surf,” that they’re yanked back to earth.

Having proven themselves as successful genre vagabonds, Maker and Campos’ decision to team up with Balency-Béarn and Pell suggests an attempt to home in on a more distinct, durable identity, one that ground the Mount Kimble sound in a reliable aesthetic. The Sunset Violent pushes them closer to this identity, establishing a clearer vision for what the band can be. But just as the vision begins to crystalize, it burns to black, leaving a pleasant if not entirely indelible outline.

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Mount Kimbie: The Sunset Violent