Idly By in the Kidwell Haze
Rjyan Kidwell—an electronic composer, sometimes rapper and oftentimes provocateur—returns here with an album in full ambient mode. Often working interchangeably under the alias, Cex, Kidwell has had a colorful career to date, but as one would guess, working under a likely self-imposed sense of restriction robs his work of what has made him unique in the first place: his personality.
Ambient music often seems akin to something like experimental theater. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, for instance, was once assessed by Irish critic Vivian Mercier as “a play in which nothing happens, twice.” However, wherein Godot’s case the nearly nonexistent plot enabled something transcendent to come through in the dialogue, ambient music is often unable to supply this necessary second gear of engagement. In this sense, much of Prosperity sits happily and idly by, or perhaps more specifically, the listener does, while music merely seems to happen across the listening landscape.
With the ever-present ethereal synthesizer, which often seems to be a requirement of the genre, much of the music rises like mist while the listener fights sleep. Look no further than the nearly eleven-minute “Body Life,” which follows one sustained note after another, and then another until it is determined that no more notes are needed for the composition. It all might be very brilliant in an absurd sort of way if it wasn’t so boring.
It’s not until the seventh track, “Smoke Organ,” with its edgy sound swell, that things take what could pass for a change in mood. However, it isn’t anymore interesting than anything else here, unless you’ve never heard what controlled feedback sounds like. And perhaps the most hopeful moment of the whole affair is in the waning moments, where Kidwell lets fade out what sounds like the true-to-life ambient noise of… getting out of a chair? Turning the synth off? No one knows. It’s as if the listener has been inside a different dimension this entire time, and their lone reprieve is the aural reward known as the pure and earthly pleasure of an empty room.
There does seem to be a tangible effort after “Smoke Organ” to give the proceedings a relative shakeup, as “Sanction Midis” and “Necromonks” boast a repetitive bell-like synth line and percussion, respectively. The latter of these two specifically offers the album’s only track with any sense of movement, as it shifts across several themes, all of which run the gamut from shrug-worthy to somewhat interesting. In that sense, it’s a start—but being the last track on the album causes one to resent the tracks that preceded it.
In truth, if the entire album had an approach similar to “Necromonks,” there would probably be more to say about it all. But as it stands, the most interesting story out of this record will likely be more so the things you did while it played rather than the things it did while you sat there and listened.