Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s Tides was initially released on Western Vinyl in 2014, but it’s only now that it’s getting a physical release via Smith’s own Touchtheplants imprint. Her label is “dedicated to the joy of storytelling and exploring the spirit through music and visual arts.” And appropriately, the nine tracks that comprise the album were originally commissioned for use in the yoga classes that Smith’s mother teaches. Every piece on Tides was composed and performed on a Buchla Music Easel, a modular synthesizer that has been utilized by musicians as varied as Sarah Davachi, Donnacha Costello, and David Rosenboom. While she’s always made synth-based music, Smith doesn’t aim for the cosmic epics or thrilling art pop of her recent albums here. Instead, she conjures up lambent ambient soundscapes that are as serene as they are delicate.
Tides feels like it falls between the charmingly homespun pieces Smith released in 2012 and her more adventurous records from the past few years. While a few tracks contain wind chimes and birdsong, the album is otherwise built on the sounds of the Buchla synthesizer alone—there’s no guitar, piano, or vocals, let alone the playful mixing that gives some of Smith’s work its verve. She trusts in the instrument to be the source of all evocation, and this honing of her craft was presumably necessary before she could create the colorful synth work that characterizes her later albums.
While it offers a curious glimpse into a vital part of Smith’s career, Tides is also a remarkable album in its own right; each track introduces listeners to a discrete space, letting us rest within its rhythmic swirls. “Tides I,” “II,” and “III” are comforting in their playfulness, their high-pitched tones and wobbling melodies evoking childlike wonder. Others, like “Tides V” and “VIII,” provide monolithic, aqueous atmospheres for listeners to soak in. “Tides IX” is the most notably different, featuring a sustained synth note dissolving into an extended field recording. With that particular transition, Smith posits that the invigorating warmth of these songs can be found in nature itself. It can be said, then, that Tides revitalizes listeners who step inside its environment, opening their eyes to the world around them.