If Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith isn't a pop star yet, she ought to be one in the near future—when humanity is evolved enough to appreciate her peculiarly beautiful songcraft. True, Smith's music is largely generated with analog synthesizers that came into vogue with academic composers about 50 years ago. But her albums—Euclid, EARS, Sunergy (a collab with electronic-music genius Suzanne Ciani), and the new The Kid—sound like what a more enlightened populace should be chilling, frolicking, and romancing to. The sentiment is not so far-fetched if you've heard Smith's hoarfrosty cover of Sade's "By Your Side."
That said, Smith never tries to "make it" in any conventional, music-biz sense of the term. She's creating the music she wants to create, and it so happens that publications like Pitchfork and festivals like Big Ears and Roskilde have taken notice. Unlike many young musicians, Smith is more concerned about her art than her brand.
"I think about experiences that I want to create, and collaborations that I want to do, and how to make that a reality, but I definitely don't think about profile," she says in a phone interview. For an artist who's progressed greatly in a few years, Smith is humble and surprised people want to listen to her.
Growing up on Orcas Island, Smith became enamored of nature. Because electronic music is not usually thought of in terms of natural beauty, it may seem anomalous for such a musician to take inspiration from it. But Smith begs to differ: "Electricity is nature, so I don't see them as separate." When on tour, she tries to hike or visit a park. Now that she lives in Los Angeles with her husband, filmmaker Sean Hellfritsch (part of Encyclopedia Pictura), Smith frequents arboretums and botanical gardens, "where I find my inspiration and feel happiest."
Influenced by the Zen Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts, The Kid scans as Smith's most accessible release yet, but it's still suffused with disorienting dynamics, phantasmal vocals, and bizarrely sparkly textures—as well as her peculiar sense of wonder. The lyrics of "In the World"—"I'm always to tending to fall in love with contradicting myself / It's what I thrive on / To surprise myself again"—could be Smith's artistic credo.
The 2016 album Sunergy is a pleasant tangent from Smith's usually concise, if unconventional, compositional style. She and Ciani hooked up their Buchla synths (expressive instruments that generate radiant kaleidoscopes of tones) and improvised while the sound of the ocean whooshed outside of Ciani's home studio in Bolinas, where both musicians fortuitously lived for a while. The result? Eventful neo–new age excursions that should silence that genre's haters.
For her Seattle show at Barboza, Smith will focus on The Kid. She says the show will be "a very heightened experience of the new album. I've put a lot of time and personal funding into making the visual element as involved as possible."
Smith alludes to several collaborations in the works, but says she can't elaborate. If they're anything like the Ciani experiment, we're in for some otherworldly treats—naturally.