Klein: touched by an angel

Before she made her singular brand of beguiling, textured experimental music, Klein’s first love was filmmaking. In a 2018 interview, the South London composer and producer even joked that her music career is “a ploy to win an Oscar.” Her latest album, touched by an angel, gives credence to this ambition. It is a wintry odyssey that elides easy interpretation while offering fascinating glimpses into the life of its creator. At nearly 90 minutes, it has the immersive feel of a feature-length film.

touched achieves this placid, weightless ecstasy through unlikely vocal manipulation and warped instrumentation. The record is composed of windy ambient passages that threaten to swallow the listener, naked piano that flies up and down like a mad Tinkerbell, and glossy R&B melodies buried under static and distortion. Distant train whistles recur as motifs, transporting us to ambiguous planes of memory. Listening to the album can feel like skating on an icy pond until suddenly you’ve ascended, your feet barely skimming the ground.

Lyrics are few and far between, giving only hints into the inspiration behind the music. (The title, touched by an angel, allegedly comes from a Christian TV show that Klein watched with her mom.) On highlight “say black power and mean it,” metallic percussion ricochets before tempestuous static blankets the track in a layer of fuzz. On “storm,” synthetic strings beckon from the darkness, joined by recorder squeaks, burbles, and the sound of flapping wings. The 10-minute “no weapon shall form against me” crescendos into staticky yells that become more overwhelming as they repeat. Even when you hear human voices, they are often scrambled, unintelligible.

Mainstream pop culture has always existed on the outskirts of Klein’s music, and here she incorporates specific allusions to express feelings of alienation. On “black famous,” the album’s opener and most rousing song, Klein references Drake’s “Started From the Bottom,” flipping his flex to evoke a sense of loss without resolution. “Started from the bottom, man/She’s still in the bottom, man,” she says with a devotional quality. The music video for “DJ drop,” a hypnotic meditation built from train whistle and looped croons, focuses on a plastic bag’s journey on the sidewalk: It functions both as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Katy Perry and a somber visualization of feeling invisible as a person of color.

The eight-minute “street cred” exemplifies the entrancing idiosyncrasies of Klein’s music. Over a simple hum, she rewinds her voice again and again, creating alien melodies from repetitive snippets of unintelligible words. Her chirpy, pitch-shifted vocals sound hypnotizing but disorienting. It’s a dazzling performance that leaves you captivated, even as Klein slips away from our grasp once again.