There is a continuum, on which all artists find themselves, which ranges from mainstream popular to underground alternative. Whether or not bands want to identify their position on the spectrum, it necessarily dictates their creative decision making, their output and their attendant commercial appeal. Often, as acts are coming up, they will sacrifice some of their independence or experimental flair in favour of nudging their way ever closer to popular crossover status. By contrast, the second album curse sees some artists who were incredibly successful at being popular with their first recorded attempt shrinking from the embrace of the masses, retracting to more comfortable, less conventional poses and rediscovering stranger pastures. The rarest of species, then, is the group that inhabits the twilight zone between mass appeal and a happy disregard for tradition and expectation.
On the box, Kan Wakan seems determined to be classified on the unusual end of the spectrum. The band is captained by LA-based, Bulgarian-born Gueorgui Linev. Much of their work is augmented by strings courtesy of the Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra led by Linev’s uncle, Bulgarian Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra conductor Stefan Linev. “Kan Wakan” itself is a name derived from the Tagalog word “kalawakan”, a loose term for atmosphere or space, relevant because former vocalist Kristianne Bautista is Filipino. It’s hard to imagine how a Bulgarian-American import of a band could creep its way down the continuum towards something decidedly popular, but creep Kan Wakan does. The band has been around in some iteration or another for the last five years, and in the last two or so has shuffled into view, forcing its way into playlist after playlist and demanding to be engaged with in a way that its multicultural background and unorthodox sound don’t hint at.
Part of Kan Wakan’s unexpected allure might lie in Linev’s knack for bringing on stellar vocalists. Bautista has long since been replaced by a revolving cast of characters, chief among them the San Diegan, Elle Olsun, whose dulcet tones feature on this and another recent standout, ‘Molasses‘. On ‘Phantasmagoria Pt. 1’, allegedly the first single from a three-part LP that will go by the same name, Olsun’s charm is front and centre, as she weaves in and out of the delicate bed of strings-and-keys that Linev sets up before announcing, with bird-like repetition of the word ‘you’, the arrival of thicker instrumentation, louder strings and an errant, jazzy trumpet. Besides that central refrain, the song rejects traditional structure, not so much progressing as unfurling before our ears. Linev has an indubitable way with sound, cobbling together an aural landscape lusher and more complex than that featured in most contemporary music, but somehow never strays into material that is too challenging or ear-bending. The result is something of a unicorn; ‘Phantasmagoria Pt. 1’ is at once wildly different and warmly familiar, shifting and turning, evading easy categorization. Quietly, intricately, Kan Wakan is at work on building its own continuum.
Kan Wakan – Phantasmagoria Pt. 1