Live at The Lab: Kashka
Kashka is a Canadian synth-pop duo formed by vocalist/lyricist Kat Burns and synth programmer and multi-instrumentalist James Bunton. The pair arrived by way of Toronto with stacks of keyboards, drum machines, and a laptop. After a show of reverb-drenched harmonies and airy synth patches, Kat handed me a purple colored tape of their most recent album Vichada. A tape? I didn't quite understand.
Luckily, I still had a General Electric Model #3-5027 Personal Portable Recorder and Cassette Player lying around. Using the headphone out from the GE, I routed the tape player to my Cambridge azure 540a integrated amplifier. Their reason for choosing tape became evident immediately. Tape is warm. Tape is fuzzy. Tape is crushed velvet. Listening to Kashka’s tape at a low volume, the slowly undulating synths on title track "Vichada" glowed in my listening room.
Bunton's synthesizer programming is surprisingly human: each of the sequenced patterns have a natural bounce and the selected synth tones are fleshy and deep, matching the woolly tape sound. On "Winter Light", funky fifths accompanied by angelic harp sweeps and pizzicato string synths propel a deep groove. While Kashka's "Prestige" could easily sneak onto your FM dial while playing Grand Theft Auto "Vice City", it is the band's vulnerable delivery, textured synths and plaintive melodies that actually make them the perfect accompaniment to the game's constant underlying anxiety and resounding triumph from mission to mission.
Kashka delivers synth-pop with ardor but while also stepping outside the boundaries of the genre. "Through the Trees" is dark and proggy; it sits somewhere between Black Sabbath and New Order. Toronto hip-hop MC, Kit Knows, raps a verse on "No Way Around It" adding a 21st century dimension to their sound.
During playback, images of interchanging shades of pastels flashed in front of cross-hatched panels of smattered hair, angled lips, and calls of despair, like an 80s toned Lichtenstein painting or the music video for "Take on Me" by A-Ha. Yet, Kashka is unpretentious in their approach to synth pop, a genre which can fall prey easily to fanboy mimicry or parody, and their performance at The Lab was equally earnest, if not a tad shy.
Kashka is proudly sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council, a good excuse for public funding if you ask me. You can buy their tape and listen to their music here.
On a slightly related note, I need more tapes.