Album Review: Fox Kraft’s “Troika”

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SCHENECTADY — Fox Kraft dropped their new album ‘Troika’ a few days ago on all the cool streaming platforms that all independent music is distributed through these days. 

Shrouded in mystery, Fox Kraft is a downtempo industrial artist working out of Schenectady.  There are no clues as to how or in what way the sounds were recorded; only a black and white photo of a person with a ponytail and glasses leaning against a wall and a few CGI images were included with the downloadable sonic content.

Which is fantastic.  This is the kind of soundscape that is meant to be enjoyed without much authorship or intrusive marks of its creator, probably generated on a laptop with a daw and some synths or groove boxes, finely toned and smooth as silk.

Troika, a Russian term associated with the number “3” (possibly Fox Kraft’s third album-length release?), is a polyblend of a myriad of styles and instruments that all evoke a similar mood.  Chill, but also dark and suspenseful,  but not dark or forceful enough to be anger-inducing or danceable; a perfect evocation of calm for someone that’s perhaps not in the mood for something too happy or easy.  

The first track, “Harbinger,” eases in with cloudy synths segueing into a beat and about four minutes of a steady groove with similar sounds and nuances.  Mini-crescendos, slight stops and just the slightest of volume changes before what sounds like piano-style synths kick in.  Forgive this author that’s been out of the industrial music game for quite some time, but for the layperson such as myself, there really aren’t any other artists I can point to that sound quite like this, though I’d say the ambient house I listened to back in the 90s was probably a good starting point.  And of course, hints of say, slow NIN or Tori Amos doing her NIN impression make their way into my mind, but I doubt any of those archaic vestiges truly influenced what is a work that’s clearly moved far away from underground rock and what used to be called ‘techno’ (probably even beyond post-rock and post-industrial) to a newer, truly darker for the darker times and inevitable machine age of sounds that are more mature and adaptive than those of reaching pop groups of yesteryear that this old fogie clearly listened to too much of before discovering the vast wealth of IDM and darkwave Fox Kraft reaches back to and creates anew.

Sorry I kind of went off on a tangent there, didn’t I?  The pensive mood I’m in was most likely not an accidental pleasant effect (affect) of the second track… “The Baroness” has a Radiohead-like spinning wheel of synth sounds taken over by an east-Asian series of sitar/harp style noises and the now-familiar perfectly in tempo drum machine beats that surprisingly never stay exactly the same.

Without trying to sound too clever, the album really locks into its groove around track four, irresistibly hypnotizing the listener into a somnolescent head-nodding experience.  Definitely, some lo-fi beats to smoke marijuana* to and just let yourself be enveloped… and then continuing into “Bird on the Edge of a Blade,” which gets even sleepier, then slowly picks up and tosses you around lightly on some unexpected note pathways but always with that lighthearted, enjoyably soporific streamlines (did that make sense? haha I’m totally LEGALLY entranced right now).  Ishtar takes you across the world into the desert and you don’t even notice the journey until you’re there…

The groove shuts off briefly and Saisei brings the more familiar guitar and piano-type sounds to the ceaseless low and slow, reverb-laden drum machine beats.  Clearly, by this point we’re treading trodden soil, as Middle Eastern elements are introduced, only to be blended into European style ambient techno style synths, randomly seeming stops and starts, like almost falling asleep and being slightly disturbed out of that blissful state every now and then.

Whereas the majority of the tracks are bereft of actual vocals, Fathom features a repeatedly sung chant which slinks off into the background (as do a few other tracks like essence) — interestingly the focus of this track as the vocals are usually clearly not a featured instrument if identifiable at all.  

Rethink begins in a similar fashion to the other tracks but quickly sets itself apart as a more somber tune, trading the heretofore relaxed atmosphere for one of quiet and perhaps sorrowful ‘rethinking’.  Again, burying what sounds like some human vocal sung lines in no language other than melody, ending in a sea of lost voices, string sounds, and synths, reverb upon reverb, echo upon echo, indelibly sad.

Overall the album can be repetitive and similar, but it’s perfect for the kind of distracted, pensive mood you fall in and out of while you’re perhaps doing other things.  Most importantly, it’s a type of music that, though familiar, I myself have not heard anywhere else in the region or really, anywhere or from any artist that I can really put my finger on or recall.  It is eclectic and recognizable, like a long chat with an old friend about old times in a slightly inebriated state, falling off to sleep gently.  An unexpectedly enjoyable most likely laptop-generated series of background sounds that won’t allow you to get too agitated, too sleepy, or too down, but enchants you into a detached world where you can feel all of these things still looking inside and down upon yourself.

*(but only in a state that it is legal in, and in a legal and responsible manner, not operating a motor vehicle way!)

Relevant links:

  • Bandcamp: https://foxkraft.bandcamp.com/
  • Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/foxkraft
  • Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/51b36h2PrTuHxiTEhAN1cI
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