I, Robot: Kawehi and the Cyborg Reveries of Robot Heart
The incredibly talented Kawehi may have become a sensation on the Internet, but her innovation and vision ensures that she’s here to stay. For anyone who missed her cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” upon its splash into the Meme Pool, do yourself a favor and watch it right now. Her new EP, Robot Heart, is out July 15, and she’s currently on tour (through August) to celebrate its release. True to the EP’s title, Robot Heart seems born of the musings of a cyborg awakening to the beauty and decay that define the human experience. Although some of Kawehi’s most popular songs are her covers, the EP features her original work, and if you’ve only heard her unique spin on the creations of other musicians, you owe it to yourself to round out your Kawehi experience with these android dreams.
Of course Kawehi didn’t just materialize spontaneously on the Web, though her songs, which could have come straight out of Ghost in the Shell in terms of their message and sound, might fool you into thinking that. In keeping with her image and rise to fame, her new EP was funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter. In this case, the crowd recognized her talent immediately. Kawehi is a highly trained musician who already has a few releases under her belt, and Robot Heart is full of surprises, showcasing her staggering range of vocal and instrumental abilities. Her highly polished sound belies the fact that she is a one-woman band, armed with a guitar, a midi keyboard, and one hell of a voice.
Kawehi’s versatility as an artist comes through the sugar-coated pop of the title song “Robot Heart,” which channels Britney Spears at the height of her bubble-gum fabulousness, but with a deeply satisfying dark edge. Lines like “You have a heart you never use. / I’ll make it mine to feel alive” seem romantic, if a little overly emotional, until you get to the much more direct and delightfully disturbing “I’ll cut out your human heart / and hope that it beats for me.”
In case you missed the point underneath all the dance-worthy beats, the darkly self-aware “Interwebz” follows, inducing visions of William Gibson’s cyberpunk genre-maker, Neuromancer. One of three songs that clock in at less than a minute and a half, it begs for a disembodied journey through the sea of information. The heartfelt, lilting and unexpectedly sad “Like Her” changes the direction of Kawehi’s sound yet again, creating a softer mood shot through with melancholy as a cyborg fantasizes about being a real girl–or maybe it’s the other way around. The idea of updating firmware has never left me so pleasantly blue.
Any easiness you might have slipped into by the end of “Like Her” is wiped out by “Human Condition,” another short piece which is a chillingly effective memento mori. “0s + 1s” picks up the beat where you probably dropped it after being reminded of your own decaying meat. It’s another example of how Kawehi’s sound can be totally upbeat while her vocals hide something darker about human nature–in this case, unequal expectations in relationships (“You want information at your fingertips / When all I want is to get lost in just one kiss”). The song ends with a GLaDOS-like entity telling you to hold still while she uninstalls your heart. “Anthem,” with its layered vocals and slower pace, is one of the most hopeful songs on the album (“I believe in you / You are the answer, you are the truth, / So what you gonna do?”). “Droid Dance,” the last of the short songs, finishes things as Kawehi shifts back into full cyborg mode, ending on an instrumental and vocal crescendo that leaves you hanging and wanting more.
Kawehi’s tour so far has been a big success. She’s been on the festival circuit, playing at both Firefly Music Festival and Summerfest this month. Her shows, which give you a fascinating extended look into her process of creation, feature a mix of her own material and her covers. Kawehi herself, if the reviews of her shows and her website are any indication, is a funny, irreverent and wonderfully quirky live performer with a penchant for taking selfies with her audience. If you’re anywhere near any of the venues below, treat yourself to one of the most engaging and unique concerts you’re likely to attend for a while.
Listening to Robot Heart, I was reminded of the closing lines of Ghost in the Shell: “And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite.” If Kawehi is any indication, the possibilities truly are endless.
June 26 – Milwaukee, WI – Summerfest
June 27 – Chicago, IL – Schubas
July 18 – Piercy, CA – Northern Lights Festival
July 20 – Santa Ana, CA – The Constellation Room
July 21 – San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
July 22 – Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Hifi
July 24 – Austin, TX – Empire Control Room and Garage
July 25 – Dallas, TX – Prophet Bar
August 19 – Wichita, KS – Botanica Gardens
August 23 – San Francisco, CA – SF Conservatory of Music
August 24 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
August 25 – Seattle, WA – Barboza