by Matthew Hirsch (@pocketsssssss)
Los Angeles and New York have bonafide and far-reaching music-industry clout. They are two of the heavyweight music cities not only in the eyes of the United States, but also in many places around the world. Contrary to popular belief, however, there are various great music cities in the country of all different sizes. One of these, Chicago, is an oft-overlooked mecca with an incredibly rich history of musical innovation and variety. Fortunately -- if artists, bands, and producers such as Saba, Dehd, Lala Lala, Monte Booker, Ravyn Lenae, and, now, KAINA are any indication -- the city’s tastemaking history only continues to the present day.
On July 12th, KAINA released her proper debut, Next to the Sun on Sooper Records, a label run by fellow Chicago stalwarts Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and Sen Morimoto. KAINA’s music is engrossing; this is something that is immediately clear upon queueing up the record. The first track, “House,” begins as an abstract drone before clarifying just enough to make out an aqueous, washed-out guitar and some bass-heavy synth chords as KAINA seemingly laments the troubles of a broken home singing, “Look how these brown hands cook all your meals / But momma says you want us all to disappear / You like to keep this place so empty.” While it is unclear whether she is singing about literal problems at home, speaking in allegorical terms about the sociopolitical state of the country, or both, her voice captivates and cuts through the heavy ambience; not only on the first track, but throughout the whole album.
“House” is followed stunningly and seamlessly by “Ghost,” with KAINA showing off her range and ear for vocal harmonies over oscillating, stuttering synth and organ textures. During the middle portion of the album, she briefly pivots away from her ethereal neo-soul with the plodding, almost anthemic “What’s a Girl” before returning to form with “Waiting on a Day,” a swinging song that would not sound out of place on Solange’s most recent album.
Where some projects lose their footing and falter towards the end, Next to the Sun only picks up steam with KAINA saving her best for the last three tracks. “Could Be a Curse,” the album’s centerpiece, is a slow-burning, guitar-focused jam featuring her self-professed best friend, Sen Morimoto. On it, she ruminates on the realities of death and forces outside of her control as she and Morimoto both offer verses in their respective native tongues. “So Small / So Vast” follows with clicking, swinging percussion that intriguingly sounds as if it could fall completely out of time at any moment but still manages to hold the song together.
Finally, the record concludes with “Green,” which was the first single KAINA released from Next to the Sun. Now re-contextualized as a conclusion rather than a preview or opening statement, “Green” gives the album a truly grooving cut that is nearly impossible not to dance to and, at least aesthetically, leaves the album on a positive note. Once it’s all over, Next to the Sun leaves an indelible mark. Amongst the many things proven by the record, one thing is abundantly clear: if you have not yet heard of KAINA, it won’t be long before you do.