Aboriginal tribes in Australia often blame the black kite, a raptor-like bird of prey, for starting 1,000-acre fires in the country's Outback. The bird's secretive nature may not be trusted, yet its resourcefulness when scavenging in the remotest of areas allows it to survive despite the apparent lack of resources. Black Kites exist as an archetype for survival — providing light in the darkest times.
Like the bird that represents their name, Houston's Black Kite dwells in a musically dark place while furnishing its own light from within. Each song contains the lush textures of Vicki Lynn's harmonies amid the collection of shadowy themes over James Templeton's riveting rhythms, reminiscent of Squarepusher's Thomas Jenkinson's otherworldly, frenetically paced drum patterns.
Lynn, who had been a big fan of Templeton's previous project, LIMB, became friends with him and hired him in 2013 to produce some songs that she had written. They released a three-song EP, entitled Bird, that strangely went under Houston's radar. The songs combined their most noteworthy strengths and Templeton's, including his penchant for intricate production techniques, and revisited songs Lynn wrote prior to their studio engagement. Knowing Templeton's ability to arrange music in unconventional ways, she took a great leap of faith and restructured each track to create an abyss filled with spiritual unknowns and disquieting sonic tension.
"I wrote 'Into the Depths' several years ago on guitar, but I wanted to present it differently," Lynn reflects. "The other two [songs] were written more recently on piano. The freneticism of the arrangements are definitely due to James's influence, and I wanted to bring that energy into what I was doing."
Now, take Black Kite's exquisite version of "Into the Depths." What began as a song on the guitar became something greater than its original conception. After revisiting the song at a later date, the two of them shunned settling on the production of each song. Together, they worked tirelessly in Lynn's home exploring the countless ways to arrange — and then rearrange — it, adding layer after layer of vocals, generating what sounds like a choral ensemble of Gyuoto Monk-like chants. The break in the song's composition signals not an end, but this deux ex machina. Rhythms explode. Pitches and timbres difficult to find anywhere else in music today.
Contrasting the beautifully layered textures are themes of despondency and despair. The words found their way into each of the tracks, but not in a contrived fashion. The lyrics were not done consciously, Lynn notes.
"I just tend to gravitate towards that kind of contrast in general," she says. "I'm fascinated by dissonance overall, especially that in sonic, thematic and behavioral mechanisms."
The music's profundity and uniqueness was amplified recently when Black Kite took on a third member in Ed Gardiner, also known as birdmagic, one of Houston's premier producers du jour. Adding his predilection for expansive, yet beat-driven sounds made perfect sense. And with little time to rehearse before their first show as a trio at the Madness on Main Street Festival back in May 2015, the band set out to tailor the music for a live setting.
"We are like family, really," muses Lynn. "While we have all collaborated in bands before, we've also been used to working solo for a long time, so we are still trying to find a rhythm and process that everyone is satisfied with, while remaining productive. When James and I met Ed, we both liked his aesthetic and felt he could bridge some of the gaps we struggled with."
More importantly, however, is the way Black Kite continues to move into even darker realms. Their newer material, all of which has yet to be released, combines the band's industrial influences with more grit and ferocity than on their debut. The songs are beginning to find their stride at the stroke of being played. Audience members notice the disparate music that, at present, has no equal within Houston.
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Tonight Black Kite will perform at the Next Wave compilation release party at Walters Downtown, which as Lynn notes, is something bigger than the music being produced by some of this city's most progressive artists.
"[The record] is curated by David Garrick of Free Press Houston, produced by the wonderful and talented people at SugarHill Studios, and benefits Music Is Our Weapon — an incredible organization that utilizes music to care for and connect with people affected by Alzheimer's and dementia," Lynn says. "The compilation will contain songs previously unreleased by the Houston artists involved, including Jawwaad, Dollie Barnes, Guilla, and Catch Fever."
Houston benefits greatly from the emergence of Black Kite, because no other act is making music in the manner they are. With new music and shows on their horizon, they've only begun to push the bar upward.