Pitchfork Reviews machìna's New Album 'archipelago'
True artistic freedom is a rarity, but Yeohee Kim knows its inverse all too well. The Korean artist nabbed viral attention in 2010 thanks to a pair of YouTube videos she uploaded under the name Apple Girl, covering Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” using only iPhone apps as instruments. This techie-baiting twee springboarded Kim to a career in K-pop, an industry known for its dazzling and genre-bending songs but not particularly celebrated for yielding creative control to performers. She’s said that dealing with the demands of others proved problematic for her early pop days. “I always thought about what people thought about me,” Kim told Harvard’s WHRB radio station in 2018. “I had to find this thing that I could not give up, I had to find the thing that I had to do before I could start saying ‘no.’”
Kim found just that by decamping to Tokyo, adopting the artist name machìna, and going independent. She also gradually shifted from the bouncy sound of her early years to an electronic palette that gives her music a newfound sense of unease. She’s come a long way from quirky YouTube uploads. She now performs partially improvised sets and has appeared alongside the wonky experimental producer Foodman. archipelago is her most fully realized work to date. The smartphone smoothness of her pop days has been replaced by a pivot to songs that use modular synthesizer as their foundation and are unafraid to move in all sorts of directions.
Earlier machìna releases retained their pop identity, with electronic elements merely rippling along the edges. Her new analog focus defines archipelago; the touches that once nudged her music towards the Pomplamoose-ian are twisted into new forms, adding tension throughout. Opener “moog, monk, modules” sets the tone for what’s to come, with mutating synth squiggles wrapping around a locked-in beat while ethereal vocal samples whizz by, upping the wooziness. Something feels off about the way it clambers ahead, but it still pulls you in.