Vulnerability has always been central to Natasha Kmeto’s ethos as a musician. Her last full-length, 2015’s Inevitable, was an ode to coming out, which Kmeto didn’t do until she was 27 years old. Songs like “I Thought You Had A Boyfriend” showed Kmeto’s pride in knowing herself enough to register another’s sexual identity confusion.
The Portland-based artist’s last release, the 7-inch for 2016’s “Pour Down,” was written after the shooting at Pulse nightclub. The song asks “Who would you be if no one told you to be?” Those words and the meaning behind the song has shifted since the 2016 election, now that it’s clear our current government believes there are certain ways to “be” – ideally white, straight, and male.
On Kmeto’s new EP, Verse/Versus, she’s exploring a different kind of vulnerability – one of romantic longing and desire. Now that she knows who she is and has had time to explore her identity, the true longing for something real begins. By putting her vocals front and center, rather than hiding them behind reverb and layers of synth, she’s expressing that she’s ready to fully put herself out there.
The opening track, “Eyes,” seemingly contradicts that statement with the repeating line “Don’t look at me,” but I see it as the beginning in a journey towards truth and personal growth. Kmeto previously stated in an interview with Bandcamp, “When I write, I write straight from my gut, so it’s tough for me to want anyone else to perform it,” so it seems safe to assume that we can take the songs at face value, like entries in her diary.
“Eyes” leads into “Count to 5,” a downtempo affair led by a humming bassline. “I died only to be born again while you were going down on me,” Kmeto kicks the song off, leading us down the swirling hole of infatuation. “I’ve never really been about a good girl,” Kmeto repeats over and over as the song churns and builds, incorporating a sexy saxophone to punctuate the sexual tension built around someone who can’t (or won’t) commit.
“Spoken Silence,” the EP’s lead single, flutters in with a quivering bassline and flittering synths. The song tackles all the things felt but unexpressed inside a relationship. “You can tell it just like it is/ But it wouldn’t be as strong as this/ You like the threat of what’s on my lips/ You like the thought of a loss of grip.” Is it better to not actually vocalize how you feel, especially those terrifying three little words, in order to keep things interesting? It’s true that the unknown can be far more titillating...
The problem with that motto, which we explore on the final song of the EP “Versus,” is that it leaves at least one person in the relationship feeling unfulfilled. While the unknown can be sexy, it can also be an absolute mindfuck. “You like me right here/ Waiting on your beck and call/ Will you ever come near?” question Kmeto, who probably already knows the answer, based on previous experience but is still holding out hope. The sexy sax is back but it feels sadder this time, a lonesome, haunting sax that’s representative of Kmeto’s all-encompassing yearning for more.
Below, listen to Verse/Versus and watch Kmeto's dazzling KEXP in-studio performance from 2015.
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