Elly Kace Pleasantly Disorients Listeners on “Nothing I see means anything”

The first ten seconds of Elly Kace’s new album provokes a question that listeners will find themselves asking many times throughout the work: “Where am I?” On Nothing I see means anything, shrill buzzes, wobbling tones, and gently pulsing major chords build a trajectory that is pleasantly disorienting. While hazy synths conjure imagery that’s ethereal and crystalline, a sudden spatialized effect can abruptly reorient the listener’s frame, catapulting them from one corner of the space to another. With tracks running the gamut from pop-y new music to new music-y pop, Nothing I see means anything questions the connection between voice, body, and spirituality.

Elly Kace — the alter-ego project of operatic soprano Elyse Anne Kakacek — conceives of her singing practice as a healing tool. The songs, along with the music videos featuring Jasmine Mendoza and directed by Ryan Rivard, are meant to reflect the inner turmoil Kace experienced at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kace had planned to spend the beginning of 2020 in Italy on an operatic audition tour; but in a blow to her professional aspirations, Kace’s time there was cut short and she was forced to leave the country. Rather than wait for the next opportunity, however, Kace decided to be proactive. She began to experiment with what she calls “phonetic meditations,” a musical practice that is part-vocal loop and part-mantra. From these improvisations grew Nothing I see means anything and Kace’s signature singing style inspired by Björk, Kate Bush, and Lady Gaga.

In “Nothing,” the drum tracks blur the line between groove and texture. Live-recorded pitched percussion and drum machine flit in and out of the foreground within a dense mix of sibilant vocals and synths. Compared to this teeming sonic landscape, Kace’s clear, straight-tone feels pointed and direct. The gap between the backdrop’s washy reverb and Kace’s incisive singing creates a sense of space in which Kace’s deft manipulations of the pitch and timbre can thrive. At times, her presence is suddenly magnified by the addition of double tracked backup vocals in close harmony. These lines, also recorded by Kace, sound almost ventriloquized: Kace cleverly throws her voice, adding dimension to the mix.

From the beachy “Anything” to “Meditation,” literally a guided mindfulness practice, the tracks are united by Kace’s lyrics, which center the mantras Kace herself used to cope with the pandemic. As she sees it, music “gets in your cells,” making it a powerful tool for transmission: the vocal meditations that inspired the music “became a tool for me to literally vibrate each self accepting sentiment into the physical bodies of whoever listens.” While her work is undeniably personal and intimate, the connection Kace hopes to foster between herself and the listener is perhaps not the only one worth mentioning. Although a small album landing page leaves only so much room to discuss the album’s genesis, Nothing I see means anything’s web presence might benefit from a fuller acknowledgement of the subtle touches added by collaborators Alex Weston, Steve Wallace, Franky Rousseau, Dominic Mekky, and Rocket Jackson Jr.

Elly Kace--Photo by Trina Merry

Elly Kace–Photo by Trina Merry

“Wild Things” closes the album with vigorous energy and a message of empowerment. Asking the listener “How will you reign?” rich swells of pitch-modulated effects and frenetic drum machine propel Kace to a soaring and expansive climax before slowly tapering to a close. While it’s not quite hyperpop, Kace’s voice becomes increasingly electronified, perhaps personifying the “wild things” she admonishes her listener to find.

Just as art rock bands experimented in the 1960s and 1970s with effects that were difficult or impossible to replicate in live performance, Nothing I see means anything is the latest in a series of new releases that owes as much to that pop legacy as it does to new music. Resonances between Kace’s work and electroacoustic songs by Angélica Negrón, for example, show listeners the immense potential of playing with the distance between voice as corporeal and present and voice as unmoored from the body. Can a singer obscure the source of her sound? What if a singer’s voice appears to emerge from an electronified plant? As Kace’s project demonstrates, new possibilities can often be discovered by reorienting the frame of something that came before. If someone has the time and space to create, all it takes, as her title track says, is someone to ask, “Are you ready?”


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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