Review: Kali Malone’s “All Life Long” – A Musical Escape from the Noise of the World

Review: Kali Malone’s “All Life Long” – A Musical Escape from the Noise of the World

Kali Malone’s sixth album could be characterized as her most accessible work yet. However, providing some context would be advisable if one were to do so.

This is the sequel to the 2023 album “Does Spring Hide Its Joy”, which only had three tracks, all variations of the same song, and lasted over three hours. The album featured Malone on a sine wave oscillator accompanied by cello and guitar. It was much more accessible compared to her previous works such as “Arched In Hysteria” from 2018, which consisted of harsh, discordant tones and the sound of a malfunctioning amplifier, or “Organ Dirges 2016-2017”, a compilation with a self-explanatory title. Her music straddles the line between modern classical and avant-garde drone rock. She studied electroacoustic composition at Stockholm’s Royal College of Music and frequently collaborates with her husband, Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley. In a 2023 interview with the Guardian, she expressed excitement over hearing the noise created by five gardeners using leaf-blowers simultaneously, considering it to be beautiful sound that can be perceived as music.

It is unlikely that Malone will be chosen for a spot on Spotify’s Hot Hits UK playlist in the near future. While Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who interviewed her for his fanzine in 2019, is a fan, her music appeals more to his unconventional taste rather than his mainstream Glastonbury performance style.

Compared to its forerunner, All Life Long has a shorter duration of 78 minutes and consists of 12 compositions, arranged for choir, brass, and pipe organ – which is supposedly Malone’s main instrument, although she has not utilized it in her recordings for the past five years. This could be seen as a defiant move on her part, given the controversial reactions to her organ performances in churches in France by a conservative Catholic group called Civitas. This group even caused the cancellation of one of her concerts in Brittany by occupying the church and making threats of violence. However, in her interviews, which are a great source for understanding the cultural significance of 15th-century meantone organ tuning, Malone appears to simply be captivated by the instrument and its potential.

It’s tempting to wonder what the aforementioned religious integralists might make of the two vocal pieces on All Life Long, on which unaccompanied choir the Macadam Ensemble sound as if they’re performing a liturgy, albeit using Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s essay In Praise of Profanation and Arthur Symons’ 1901 poem The Crying of Water, from which the album also takes its name. Listeners with rock-trained ears, meanwhile, might expect a heavy metal band to strike up midway through each.

The reason why both the essay and the poem may attract Malone is evident. The essay explores the transformation of sacred elements into secular ones, while the poem’s portrayal of the sea’s sound as an unceasing and melancholic cry can be associated with the somber tone of All Life Long. The organ pieces gradually change and develop, with recurring textures and harmonic structures appearing throughout the album. While moments of discordance can be found, they are less frequent and less intense compared to Malone’s previous work. She often ends with a sustained chord, as seen in the trance-inducing track No Sun to Burn.

The presence of brass in the tracks prompts reflection on the nature of the instruments. Though the music maintains a somber tone like the organ pieces, it also has a sense of proclamation, almost as if a ghostly fanfare lingers within it.

Although it may seem minimalistic, this music does not lack depth or emotional warmth. There is a melancholic tone to Prisoned on Watery Shore that is truly moving, while Moving Forward evokes a contemplative sense of tranquility. It is also music that can adapt to different listening experiences. When listened to on headphones at a high volume, the organ pieces can feel all-consuming and transporting, with their slow and captivating movements drawing you in and momentarily blocking out the external world. However, when played on speakers at a lower volume, they serve as highly effective ambient music, adding a peaceful and introspective atmosphere to your surroundings.

In written form, All Life Long may seem challenging for those who typically do not enjoy avant-garde music. However, in reality, it requires minimal effort from the listener – you simply need to allow yourself to be immersed.


Alexis listened to music this week.

Yaya Bey – Chasing the Bus

From the highly anticipated new album Ten Fold by the R&B singer from Brooklyn, Chasing the Bus presents poetic turmoil in love accompanied by smooth and soothing music.