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Okay Kaya Synthesizes Her Subconscious on ‘SAP’

‘SAP’ Album Review

Kaya Wilkins, known professionally/musically as Okay Kaya, makes music that sounds like, what I would personally describe as, a haunted tunnel of love, and her latest album, SAP is no deviation. Whimsical flutes clash with synth and vocoders to create a malleable piece of art that does not conform to any genre, yet encompasses every emotion. Wilkins is romantic, jazzy, wondrous, clinical, confused, and more.

Filled with mechanical wonder, Mood into Object Personified delves into Wilkins’ mind as she transforms into a building. The track, and album, begins with “Like a newborn building I take up space/ This splayed exoskeleton/ Scaffolding to keep your spirits low”, and by the end, Wilkins is in her final form, “With my metal arms”. It sets a strong tone for the rest of the album, signifying that this is an entirely new sound from Wilkins, and that the moody, metallic theme of Mood into Object Personified is just the beginning.

A spin on Dolly Parton’s Jolene From Her Own Perspective, Wilkins’ reimagines the track from a queer perspective and implements a soft, plush tune in doing so. The opening features minimal cymbals and strummed guitar below Wilkins’ immaculate vocals bringing the listener in with, “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly”. The track continues lovingly, and at the lyrics, “Don’t you know I think you are heaven sent/ I can’t believe we’re arguing/ About some man that’s so silly/ In fact, I’d rather talk about you and me”, a classic Wilkins’ move of intense, pulsing beats you can’t quite place. It only gets better at the second iteration of those aforementioned lyrics, with a deeper dive that includes higher vocals and stronger synths.

Origin Story is the first track you hear where Wilkins’ vocals are at the very forefront, inescapable in their beauty and weight, and why would you want them to be anything else. With choir humming and harmonizing in support, the track quickly delves into lyrics that match the dark, ominous backing. Wilkins is confronting her disdain for her father, “If you’re my father, why should I have to ask/ For your forgiveness?” and later, “Wish I came (Happy birthday)/ From no one”. For an artist so known for the uptempo folk, rock, and disco of her previous albums, Both (2018) and Watch This Liquid Pour Itself (2020), this is easily the eeriest track of her discography.

A quick jump from the previous track, Jazzercise is a fun, almost-spoken track that, even in its darker lyrics, maintains a funky, 80s energy. Wilkins conjures up the image of a leotard and leg warmer wearing fitness instructor with the opening lyrics of, “Have you tried jazzercising your nerves away?/ Spandex, Lycra, every single day/ Polymer-amorous, second layer of skin/ Lay there touching it, exalted/ Spread your fingers and wiggle them”. As the track progresses, Wilkins turns existential, “Did you know/ Without the ego/ There is no narrative?/ Just being here or having been”, though the danceable beat remains. No doubt it’s a fun track, but it does not feel essential to the album nor Wilkins’ more meditative discography.

Now Pathologically Yours, that is a track that jumps out at the listener. It starts raw and melodic, romantic in the signature Okay Kaya sense of obsessive resistance. The lyrics are somewhat plain but not at all boring, instead serving as a simple building block for the incredible production. Just over halfway through the song (1:03-1:07), there’s a notable lull, near complete silence from an artist that so rarely pauses. The track then continues, and suddenly it’s layered and sweetly balanced, a heavenly, looming sound if there ever was one. The track can be summed up as Pitchfork so brilliantly puts it, “Wilkins touches some of the playfulness of early Laurie Anderson, a hallowed touchstone she’s never been anywhere near before.”

Spinal Tap and Inside of a Plum get bodily. The former so sleekly explains the nighttime routine of your nervous system, “And while you slept/ Your brain got rinsed/ Cerebrospinal fluids/ Took out your trash/ In a spirited slam dunk/ Swooshing, clear and smoothing/ It’s called your nervous system/ Think of it as an interior cushion”. The track continues with less notable lyrics, but an ultra-satisfying beat that you can’t help but nod your head to. And Inside of a Plum, only Kaya Wilkins could write a track about ketamine therapy and make it smooth and orgasmic (her words not mine, “Goth orgasm”). She details the physical aspects of receiving treatment, “In a building, in an office/ In a chair under a weighted blanket” and “Put on some headphones and cover my eyes/ Teeth are loosey-goosey feeling/ And so is my mind/ There’s a taste of German beer/ Then no taste at all/ My breath is a wave”. Both tracks earned their spots as singles, and it’s clear they are posterchildren for what Wilkins’ goal for SAP is.

Rorschach is the track that somehow feels the most fitting in regards to the title of the album, SAP. It’s just that, sticky, natural, slightly sweet. The lyrics are reminiscent of the sexual, feminine, seductively spooky, “She’s got the entire world in her mouth/ Geographic tongue/ I think I could live in there/ I’ll put an offer down/ She’s just my taste, my bud/ Her tongue is a Rorschach test”. Given a more upbeat backing, it could easily have been a track from Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, but it shines brightly enough as is with its smooth, harp nature.

A quick fan favorite, In Regards to Your Tweet is synth greatness. Wilkins’ keeps it light and airy even as she’s singing to a lover for which she holds more fondness than she receives. The track is so many things, so hard to define or pin down but it is certainly vibrant. Wilkins sings, “Sleep on me if you want to/ Sleep on me, I’m a little spoon”, pulling the listener in close in a way she never has before. While you could cry to this, it’s much more of a laugh, “It’s my crazy-bitch-prevention/ It’s not just for attention”.

Dark, dreary, whining, tinny. Dep. Chamber’s opening is almost too intense to get through. But when the lyrics kick in, everything shifts. It’s layered and plucky, a little bit all over the place but in Wilkins’ signature way. Wilkins puts herself out there, “No family, no dynamics/ No records, no recordings/ Edges softened by water, I’m a sentient dumpling/ Sapling, resin/ Sticky, messy”. It’s brilliant, starchy, stiff, and yet beautiful, that is if you can get past the track’s sonic hyper-stimulation.

An ethereal, underwater echochamber is where Pearl Gurl must have been constructed. It is sweet and mature, and the track someone might gravitate towards if they’re an enjoyer of Wilkins’ earlier album Both. The track swims to a plucky, romantic ending, characteristic of Wilkins and her sound. Lyrically, Pearl Gurl is tough in its femininity, though ending on a lighter note of, “What is a city if not an aboveground reef?/ What if we kissed between bliss and reality?/ I’ll swim to you”. No longer natural, now synthetic and unforgiving. But then taking a swelling turn towards the orchestral, The Lesson details a failed relationship. Wilkins’ describes her wanting them to work out, “I didn’t want you to be the lesson (More harm than harmony)/ I wanted you to be the learned (More harm than harmony)”. But ultimately, she recognizes the unhealthy nature of the relationship and leaves it, “This thing inside of me is constantly itching (More passion than compassion)/ Is that why they call it heartburn? (More harm than harmony)/ It hurts”.

Wilkins’ gives in in I’ve spent Forever planning a Crisis, she lets herself be the smaller being in comparison to the mysterious ‘her’. Peacefully meek, Wilkins’ sings, “I am an accommodating swan/ (My head is bowing down)/ And I dance and dip and tumble for you/ (For you)”. Flutes are present the entire song, creating a luminous haze in which the listener cannot escape, and better yet does not want to. Then a jump: vocoder, vocoder, and more vocoder. Wilkins opens Like a Liver with strange and sharply spoken lyrics. But the track quickly becomes heavenly, “It’s so nice to be somebody/ To see somеbody/ To feel something”. She is coming into her own, less submissive and up to the universe’s bidding, more gripping and personal. Wilkins is placing herself at the center of things, “Gonna reinvent the wheel”, cog in the machine no more.

Undeniably fun, feminine, and then critical of femininity, Weltschmerz is the harmonic, low-toned yet upbeat track this album was missing. Wilkins has her fun in the beginning, “Five, four, three, two, hot girl shit first … The heart wants what it wants/ And it wants some”. But by the end, Wilkins has circled back to the crass ways in which female pain is used to create art, “But I’m faint and I’m laying here/ Like a painting of a girl with tuberculosis/ (Romanticise that, huh)/ (That was witchy)”. It’s the perfect closing track for SAP, and summarizes the album’s unique sound perfectly.

All in all, SAP is an album constructed with clear care and love. Wilkins’ progression as a musician and artist has led her to this very album, away from the softness of Both and the sexuality of Watch This Liquid Pour Itself. SAP is fun, carefree, and a step in the right direction for Okay Kaya. The golden question: what will she do next?

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