On his latest effort as Kinth, the sometimes-acoustic-guitar-wielding songwriter Jay Flash tackles industrial and electronic music over the course of 10 tracks that are mostly ominous, occasionally buoyant, and often wordless. Psychological Manipulation abandons the ruminative and crushingly beautiful piano works of 2012’s Thinking Of You in favor of abrasive, heavily distorted, and layered sounds interspersed with smoky, meandering interludes. Also absent are the folksy genre experiments that composed a fair amount of his previous material. The results are likely to remind listeners of everything from Nine Inch Nails to contemporary avant-garde acts like The Knife and Animal Collective.
The album opens with “Bullfrog,” a difficult track of stuttering globules of electronic sound, distorted guitar, and indiscernible pronouncements. “I Can Dance” abruptly introduces elements of house music featuring deep bass, darting synth lines, and concrete, danceable rhythms—many of which carry on in some shape or form throughout the album. What develops in later tracks, though, is a much darker tone coupled with purposefully indistinct lyrics that could be read as a stand-in for the politically transgressive conceptualism that was more apparent on Flash’s earlier albums. “Will Do Anything 4 $$$” is hugely successful at elaborating the song title’s dark sentiment nearly wordlessly.
With all of its strengths, Manipulation is at times likely to lose listeners with less melodically focused stretches that ultimately serve as something like palate cleansers. “Stasis,” for example, contains over three minutes of airy drum pattering and chanting before the necessary industrial elements are introduced and then removed almost immediately. Stuck between “We Are The Machine” and the breakbeat-based “Rory’s Rainbows” (two of the album’s strongest tracks), “Stasis” feels almost like a placeholder for something more substantial. “Slukktenibaarvi” and “1800-2200,” which arrive closer to the end of the album, attempt the same feat as “Stasis,” though are more successful in their seeming effortlessness.
Perhaps the most important achievement of Psychological Manipulation is that during its best moments, Flash is attempting to work in an unlikely genre and succeeding on his own terms. Manipulation is bold, unapologetic, sceneless, and compatible with all of the songwriter’s musical identities. Activist, loner, and soul-searcher all find a place here. Flash is notorious for following his muse, and it’s not entirely certain that we’ll see something like this from him again, but it will be interesting to see how this album’s influences manifest themselves in forthcoming releases. For now, we have another strong collection of songs from one of Milwaukee’s most prolific and pioneering songwriters.