Review: 'Superbloom' - Kiefer
I was in Berlin the first time I heard of Kiefer. I had just unexpectedly arrived in the city and felt compelled to go out that Thursday night. He was supporting MNDSGN – someone I was an avid fan of – at Gretchen, a dank, dusty band room in southern Berlin. The pianist was one of the most humble, down-to-earth people I have ever seen on stage and looked visibly overjoyed to be up there. “This is amazing” he kept on saying, staring in awe as the crowd bopped along to his signature sounds.
Now 27, Kiefer has released two studio albums on the legendary Stones Throw Records, and toured extensively with Jonwayne, Moses Sumney and Terrace Martin. The San-Diego born, LA-based pianist was captivated by jazz from an early age, with his father encouraging him to pursue a professional solo career in his teens. A short time at UCLA performing over electronic beats later, Kiefer joined MNDSGN’s live trio and started his career in LA – recently having the opportunity to produce three beats for Anderson .Paak’s Ventura / Oxnard records.
Released on Friday, ‘Superbloom’ is Kiefer’s third studio album to choose quality over quantity at a mere 23 minutes long. However, the record is a “very active” work, with the first five tracks an invigorating, eclectic mix of MPC-esque drum patterns as upbeat as and joyful as each other, and pieces that are reminiscent of his surprisingly energetic live performances. The final two cuts are a “grand exhale” of all that energy – says Kiefer – and play out like a short performance luring you in and leaving you craving more.
The introductory ‘Golden’ – with its fat basslines and lagging drums sound inspired by hip-hop legend J-Dilla, before Kiefer’s keys come in and transport you into another simple, peaceful world – watching the world go by. Kiefer’s mix of jazz and hip-hop is unmistakeable and seductive – his keys never seem to go on for long enough as they dance around the mix, contrasting with the grounded drumbeats. That is his wizard work.
The final quarter of the song turns synth-heavy and the bass takes centre stage, as a droning, accordion-like pad pushes the beat work forward. This record is unapologetically Stones Throw, and is reminiscent of the 6-track EP ‘Bridges’ released earlier this year – a synthesizer focussed EP which Kiefer considers part of the same work, and is the B-side of the ‘Superbloom’ vinyl.
The second cut, ‘Frozen’ is a much more laidback, softer tune. The mellow keys stay front and centre. Those delayed, rising notes and hanging key it is as satisfying as it is intriguing – you have to listen to know what we mean. ‘Frozen’ is as uplifting as it is calming – with Kiefer’s improvised keys in the final third of the track so captivating it easily brings you into a beautiful, fulfilling sense of peace.
Whilst Kiefer’s first record – ‘Kickinit Alone’ – is full of downtempo, melancholy beats as it was written in the aftermath of a relationship, ‘Superbloom’ follows similar themes of 2018’s ‘HappySad’ – an album full of bright, cheerful cuts designed to soundtrack the more lowkey moments of life.
‘May 20’ takes an entirely different approach – using synthesizers and a choppy bassline to create a track that would sounds very much like the likes of Knxwledge, Madlib and Samiyam. The repetitive, high-pitched key loop combined with the drums create a glitchy, psychedelic cut that keeps the album interesting.
‘10’000’ Days’ slows the speed down – using a ballad-like tempo and beat and dusty MIDIs before playing the keys in double time and bringing the beat back up to pure head nodding goodness. The predominantly simple piece works wonders, making the track a true standout on the record.
Following the very jazzy, unorthodox ‘Good Looking’, the final two tracks provide that “exhale” in ‘Be Encouraged…’ and ‘…And Encourage Others’. Originally a single song, the former follows a more traditional song format whilst the latter sees Kiefer on a beautiful, improvisational spiel that sees the end of the record. The two tracks build off the same laidback beat that we have come to expect from the LA hip-hop scene, however what makes Kiefer so special is his relentlessly polished and original piano work that melds in with the beats. The ability to do this so flawlessly makes it difficult not to call Kiefer one of the most prestigious jazz pianists of this generation.
Whilst ‘HappySad’ is Kiefer’s most voluminous, well-known work, ‘Superbloom’ is his magnum opus, with the outstanding piano work and polished, Dilla-inspired beats ensuring every track on the album is quality.
‘Superbloom’ proves Kiefer is one of the industry’s best – his career and rise up to the release of the album has been no accident, and we can only expect more quality productions from the LA-based musician.
‘Superbloom’ by Kiefer is out now through Stones Throw Records.