It would be easy to dismiss Joey Butler aka Kid Smpl as derivative of one song/album, but when that song/album is Burial’s “Night Bus” and Untrue, that dismissal quickly becomes moot. Over the past few years, Butler has traipsed between ambient sounds, borrowing equally from early dubstep and J Dilla-esque sample culture. He has released several EP’s and countless bootlegs and remixes, all touching on aspects of the night bus sound with varied success.
Butler’s music relies on a sort of imprecise perfection, heavily reliant on a rich textural element, but without the static propulsion of most electronic music. Some of Butler’s past releases (like the Collapse EP) have attempted to walk the line between hip hop beat work and dubstep atmospherics, falling into a motionless gray area. Collapse is far from a bad release, but it lacks the intimacy implied in a night bus release.
Now aligned with Alex Ruder’s Hush Hush Records, Butler has released his best music to date in 2012. Skylight is both Smpl’s full-length debut and the clearest incarnation of his vision, a 13 song ride that ripples with closeted emotion. In our Purveyors feature on Hush Hush, Ruder described the night bus sound as “the type of music you wanna put on your headphones while riding alone on a bus at night.” The connection between Skylight and the urban environment cannot be understated.
The scattered R&B vocals throughout Skylight are the clearest human element of the album, but also its most disassociate. Butler’s vocals exist below the surface and are completely unintelligible, giving them a slightly disorienting edge. On “Static”, the warmest track on the album, the vocals take on a singsong quality, driving the listener to fruitlessly crane his/her neck to hear. The paradox between intimacy and distance is palpable throughout the album
Neither emotionally endearing nor dissociative, Skylight’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Like the blurred urban landscape it is built out of, Skylight is a visceral juxtaposition between human closeness and emotional distance. Butler has crafted an album that is not only perfect to listen to on late night bus rides, but encapsulates the very essence of the nocturnal urban landscape.