Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s fifth studio album EARS is an immersive listening experience in which dizzying swirls of organic and synthesized sounds work together to create a sense of three-dimensional space and propulsion. Instrumentation in the form of flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone were used in the recording of the LP, their parts being composed by Smith and performed by Rob Frye. Smith plays the Buchla Music Easel, EMS Synthi, ARP 2600, Oscar, Korg Mono/Poly, Electrocomp 101, and the Moog Werkstatt, as well as incorporating the use of her own voice.
In describing the writing process for Ears, Smith has stated that “every single track started out as a song – and then I produced it and added woodwind parts, trying to blend my two worlds [orchestral compositions and songs].” She has described Ears as a project where she “wanted it to feel like you’re going through a sonic journey, like a 3D motion ride through a futuristic jungle”.
Ears received an overwhelmingly positive response upon its release. Raymond Cummings of Spin Records suggested that the album “might be an ultimate track to the season”, whilst Clash (magazine) described the album as “…a stunning evocation of that decision [to trust in the subconscious], a magnificent aural topography of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s inspired imagination”. The LP was also “album of the week” for online music store Bleep.com, and Sammy Jones of Crack Magazine noted that Smith “sees the human, the organic, and the cosmic cast aloft together, spinning and enveloping – the world, illustrated as perfect and beautiful”.
Ears featured heavily in 2016 end-of-year lists with mentions from several prominent online magazines, listed at #29 on Pitchfork’s 50 Best Albums of 2016, #14 on Resident Advisor’s 20 Best Albums, #30 on NPR Music’s Best 50 Albums of 2016, and chosen as Norman Records’ Album of the Year 2016. The track “Existence in the Unfurling” was placed at #70 on Pitchfork’s 100 Best Songs of 2016, while Ears was mentioned in Pitchfork’s 20 Best Experimental Albums of 2016 (along with Kaitlyn’s collaboration with Suzanne Ciani, Sunergy). Crack Magazine also cited Ears and Sunergy at #10 and #94, respectively, on their Top 100 Albums of the Year 2016.
In Smith’s hands, acoustic instruments sound like electronic ones, synthetic sounds reference nature, and human voices sound like the creation of machines.