Human – Kitt Philippa
I first heard Kitt Philippa some years ago in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. A slight, solitary figure, shoulders hunched towards piano keys, but what happened next was akin to a spiritual experience. Stripped back, soul bared, a congregation captured body and soul. It was a performance that left you raw, simultaneously elevated yet feeling tethered to this realm. I had a repeat of that experience listening to ‘Human’.
A portrait of the artist as a young human, it is cerebral, challenging the unbearable lightness of being you could say. Routinely, it’s like a prayer, a plea to the powers that be, whoever they may be. It is a quest for answers. What does it actually mean to be human? An existential experiment, conducting introspective research, what was once called ‘soul-searching’.
Kitt Philippa is a classically trained musician. They studied music at Queen’s University. This first full album, a follow up to an EP earlier this year, links together ten carefully crafted compositions. Nothing is accidental, every note, every word, every sound effect is meaningful. It requires your full attention, in a quiet space, unspoiled by intrusion. It is best served with full sensory immersion. How does it make you feel if you feel at all?
Therein lies the connection, Philippa as an artist in abstract isolation, is able to reach out and make a complex connection. The opening track ‘Human’, was voted NI Music Prize Single of the Year in the only public vote. Proof that it got under the skin of so many people. In a world of information overload, when there has never in the history of humanity been so many means of connectivity, why do so many feel alone, abandoned, hollow and hurt? This is where Philippa holds a mirror up, reflecting in evidential excellence, how it feels, or doesn’t feel to be human.
This album examines in some considerable detail, that sense of loss that’s commonplace in this 21st century. I sense a searching for spiritual enlightenment, to fill that ‘God shaped hole’ if such a thing even exists. Often, I hear a prayer, a plea, offered up for humanity. A call to grace, whatever grace is.
Nothing is coincidental in ‘Human’. The titles of each track are often stark mono or duosyllables. ‘Grace’, ‘You’, ‘Moth’, ‘Lion’, ‘Atlas’.
The weight of reason and rhyme like lyrical epitaphs, chime in to melodies and arias that are so sublime as to be sub-human. An angel, earthed, struggling with entrapment in a human shell. These songs soar and plummet, with biblical proportions.
I have often thought the human body the most exquisite work of art and science as to be far beyond any absolute attempt at comprehension, whereby even the tiniest chemical imbalance can cause chaos.
Then there’s the complexity of human relationships, our interactions with others – as if getting to grips with self is not enough. Survival is instinctive, yet the human condition in itself is beyond belief, so there must be somewhere more, that makes it all make sense.
While the songs focus on feelings, emotional turmoil and depth, the use of robust imagery poetically hauls us to attention. An architect’s chamber, a lion’s cage, a woman weighed down by winter coat in summer, a mad moth drawn to artificial light, a lifeboat in the salty cold of night, the shoulders of ‘Atlas’, the jazzy fluctuations of ‘Fahrenheit’.
There is a transcendent purity to Phillipa’s voice. It sounds sacred. Yet it has an edge that aches. That voice is the focus of everything in ‘Human’, it may be the core character, but the orchestral manoeuvres woven through add texture and depth. The strings, the organ, the clarinet, the drone. There is an impending moment in ‘Untitled’ when it turns it takes an operatic twist and leads us into crescendo, a majestic interpretation of a tragic, lost soul, found.
Somehow, this album takes us to church. Somehow, it makes us question ourselves and the corners of our own souls. What does it mean to be human? What is so scary about letting in the light and giving yourself permission to be spiritual, in a society that scorns it so liberally.
The final track fills us with Hope. ’68 2/4′ is a mantra. In upbeat Gospel style, complete with hand-clapping, it is a two-line lyric on repeat:
Keep me going to the morning light. Let me see the sun anticipating.
Human ends with hope. It just is. We just are. Let it be, it seems to say to me. Zen-like sense and sensibility prevail. The answers are beyond our human understanding. Praise be to Kitt Philippa for bringing this work of art, mastery, and majesty into creation.