KOAN soulful sound: Led By Ancient Light Review

(Sarah Koury/KoLAB Studios)

The darling duo of the experimental electronica scene, KOAN Sound, are back at it again with their mind-bending new release “Led by Ancient Light.” Their first album of all new material since their 2018 album “Polychrome,” “Led by Ancient Light” marks a refinement of their usual slick and smooth style.

This album highlights the talent KOAN Sound has for sound design by incorporating tons of orchestration. Growling cellos, crashing synths, and just enough silence to leave you wanting more.

Unlike the jazzy, bubbly tracks of “Polychrome,” this album feels like the soundtrack for an experimental cyberpunk short film. The fourth track on the album, “Voices of Dissent,” showcases this supersaturated electronic aggression with impeccable string work and reverb to clash with the glitchy intro, building tension into a gloriously discordant third drop.

While certainly not for everyone, KOAN Sound does showcase an immense range of sounds this outing. “Liquid Levity,” the sixth track, hammers the listener with a thriving depth sub-bass before lifting the curtain on the finest jazz ensemble I have heard this year. A crystal clear piano drives the song from the start. At first, distorted synths glide with a mournful cello and punchy upright bass before transitioning into a wave of distorted drums and synths with a solid timbre.

The title track comes closer to the end of the record. It shows a certain tenderness for the listener, sounding less like a religious hymn as implied by its name and more like the boot sequence for a digital world. Glitchy digital notes sounding like the magic of a fuzz pedal on a Rhodes piano leave a lingering impression.

The naturalistic, cozy soundscape of “Embrace” is a highlight of the album. Listening through it, you can almost hear a foley artist going to great lengths to create the sound of a lovely day. Halfway through, a tide of rising synths breaks through like impending dawn.

The problem, as with every KOAN Sound album, is ease of listening. This is a difficult album to get through. The tracks are clear and well-produced but have no accommodations or sacrifices for the listener. They may linger on a chord progression or phrasing for minutes or attack with piercing highs and unpredictable aggression.

The album has been tooled for balanced sound systems above all else. Through a set of expensive Sennhisers or Audezees, “Ancient Light” is a beauty, while on my old and washing-machine-kissed earbuds, I would rather listen to something with more approachable bass, kinder highs, and vocals.

However, don’t let me dissuade you if this seems enticing and you are okay with a little walk on the weird side. KOAN Sound has delivered an otherworldly auditory feast with “Led by Ancient Light.”

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