“Sarah” is fun electronic music for survivors

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Kirara is a South Korean transgender artist who uses a cut-copy style, polyrhythms, and visceral samples to make distinct electronic music. Her new album “Sarah” picks up right where she left off, changing up her style to make an album that is more danceable and fun, though less intricate and cohesive.

Kirara remains a bit of a hidden gem in the US, anyway. In Korea, she successfully crowdfunded her new album, donors giving her over three times the money she requested.

I can’t say if Kirara is making it on the radio in Seoul or Busan, but I feel comfortable saying she has a passionate following. Her fans don’t only show up in the donation feed, but in the live show too, making her live albums and performances some of my favorites to listen to.

It helps that Kirara puts on a great live show. The live version of her album “Moves” is arguably better than the studio version — a rare feat. It’s full of fun audience interactions, songs feel pared down to just their meat, there’s a great blend of old and new work, and Kirara inserts fun, new samples into her song.

Kirara has very much earned her fan following, through her live show and through her spirit. Though Kirara doesn’t put lyrics to songs, she gives each album a heartfelt description. Her motto is “pretty and strong,” and her focus is building up confidence and self-worth, something vital in the transgender community, which is rife with suicides.

More than her other albums, “Sarah” hones in on this purpose. Kirara writes in her funding drive statement that this is an album for the survivors. It’s an album that invites you to dance and have fun in the face of hardship.

Because of that, “Sarah” tries to capture the energy and fun Kirara brings to her live shows. Her previous albums and EPs are fun, but not in the same way. They come out cleaner and sharper than a live show, with better transitions and more patient structures and builds, but less hype too.

“Sarah ” succeeds in being Kirara’s most fun and danceable album to date. “장난 (Prank),” “Blink,” and “Rio” all have distinct, uptempo lead rhythms that get the feet moving. “Blink” is the best track to look at because what Kirara does there, she does on a lot of the album.

On “Blink” Kirara uses an echo effect and low-pitched bass and drums that lends the song the sense of hype a lot of pop and electronic music has. The track is mostly variations on one beat, which is oddly satisfying and makes zoning out and dancing to the song easier. While “Blink” being basically one beat does make it less complex and interesting than many of the tracks on “Moves” were, Kirara keeps the song from getting boring by distorting the beat so much and by dropping separate rhythms at great moments.

“Blink” is a bit extreme. “장난” similarly builds around one beat but Kirara puts in a lot more breaks and transitions. Either it or “Rio” felt like the best tracks on the album, still having all the groove and catchiness of a pop hit without losing the dips and rises in structure and the network of meshed sounds that makes Kirara’s music intricate and interesting.

“장난” chases the stadium rock sound a bit more, being a bit louder, harsher, and also starker and easier to digest. “Rio” feels a lot more like a “Moves” song, lasting nearly 8 minutes and stacking rhythms on top of each other as it moves. It has a rapid beat that opens with a snappy percussion line and about midway through, Kirara adds in snippets of colorful movie audio.

“Sarah” is a strong album overall, having no real bad tracks, but most tracks aren’t as good as “Rio” and “장난.” It feels like Kirara traded off some intricacy for groove and sometimes it pays off, while other times it doesn’t as much.

The bigger problem comes in album composition. “Sarah” feels like one of Kirara’s least cohesive albums.

“Moves” and “rcts” both came together very well as albums. Kirara used transition songs and clever endings and openings to make each album fluid. “Sarah” lacks that fluidity, and it’s my main issue with the album. There are stretches for “Sarah” that blend very well but a song comes along and breaks up the momentum.

“Water” is the worst offender. On its own, “Water” is a solid track, but it’s long, repeats itself, and builds slowly. It comes right in the middle of the album, right before “장난,” maybe the album’s most energetic song. “Water” really slows down the album and feels stylistically out of place – it’s much more hypnotic than danceable. “Stay” also hurts the album momentum, which pains me to say because it’s a lot sweeter and softer sounding than Kirara’s normal style, and a super pleasant change of pace.

I still enjoyed “Sarah” but felt it didn’t flow as well as other albums and felt like one of her least cohesive albums. Kirara varied her style a lot but I didn’t feel that she tied the changing styles together that well. However, “Sarah” is Kirara’s most fun album. At the end of the day, it is the fun dance music for survivors that Kirara wants it to be.

8.5/10

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