Few albums of the last five years provided as profound a feeling of escape as Olga Bell’s breakthrough album Krai. For the Brooklyn-based composer and electronic musician, the effect of its process was the opposite: The piece, meant as a "concert" work and funded by a grant from the American Composers Forum, was her way of re-accessing her earliest memories as a young child in Moscow (she moved from there to Alaska when she was seven), as well as exploring the remotest corners of her ancestral land through extensive research. The fruits of her labor are near-uncharacterizable: Bell melds Russian folk melodies with pop, traditional Eastern European forms with jagged, prog-rock onslaughts, and integrates non-Western vocal styles—from Altai-style throat singing to throaty, piquant harmonies recalling the 4AD tapes of the Bulgarian State & Television Female Vocal Choir.
By embracing a musical world that feels more in line with her present—and self-consciously down to earth—her new five-song EP, Incitation, provides something more immediately parsable than Krai. Like her 2011 full-length Diamonite, Incitation consists of electro-pop music ready-made for one-person performance. Unlike Krai, Bell is not wrestling with demented mirror reflections of herself; the busy and tangled vocal counterpoint is gone. The digital instruments act as extensions of her strong solo voice in the center of the mix—the pointillistic MIDI synth figurations (think Glasser) on the periphery, the booming electroacoustic percussion and subdued bass. Incitation has an economy of purpose and more serious bent than her previous electronic work, in which Bell made a strong break from her years training as a concert classical pianist and paid tribute—in ecstatic, self-aware or outright jokey tones—to her new life as a composer and performer in New York City.
Instead of rushing to keep in time with skittery, double-time drum machines, Bell aims for the austere on this EP, embracing the melismatic melodies and damaged electronic architecture favored by Björk and so many after her. The richly textured drum sampling is the most modern element, indebted to artists like FKA twigs who have drawn threads from R&B toward IDM and other realms of the avant-garde.1 Incitation 2 Rubbernecker 3 Pounder I 4 Pounder II 5 Goalie