‘The Incompatible Okay Kaya’ is stunning acoustic pastiche of catharsis, relatability

photo of Okay Kaya's album cover
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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Okay Kaya makes songs for girls with crumbs in their beds. Kaya Wilkins, releasing music under this moniker, instills an unmatched lyrical clarity that is at once lustrous and utterly disgusting — in a good way. “IUD,” off her debut record Both, is about going to get an IUD. Despite its off-putting subject matter, the track brims with earnestness and wry humor that only works because of the space Wilkins has carved out for intimacy within her discography. Her mixtape The Incompatible Okay Kaya is predictably rife with this intimacy, but also sees Wilkins broadening and refining her scope — distilling pandemic disaffection and general ennui into something sublime. 

Constructed as a mixture of covers of classics and her own previous material, The Incompatible Okay Kaya is stripped-back and wistful. The first track on the mixtape, “If I Can Help Somebody,” a cover of the gospel standard by Mahalia Jackson, swaps the vocal maximalism of the original for understatedness. Wilkin’s voice comes through with a clarity that sounds like you’re listening to her from the opposite side of a paper towel tube, her vocals echoing with striking translucence. 

“Zero Interaction Ramen Bar,” from Wilkins’ sophomore LP, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, is one of the mixtape’s more conspicuously melancholic tracks, wherein Wilkins likens her lover to a parasite. As the track progresses, however, “parasite” perhaps comes to represent Wilkins’ sense of self. “My parasite and I are blushing/ A cold one and a sentient dumpling,” she sings in the chorus. 

Wilkins also covers The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love” off their venerated record 69 Love Songs. The Okay Kaya version opts for downtempo, unadorned production that, perhaps paradoxically, lends it a severity. This severity is writ large in the back half of the song, where Wilkins’ use of expletives — “Some of it is transcendental/ Some of it is just f—ing dumb” — aids in the tonal streamlining of the mixtape into a tableau of heartbreak and disillusionment.

Imbued with a devastating candor, “Dance Like U,” is underpinned by soporific synths and a peppering of electronic bells. With lyrics such as “I spend most mornings trying to get over myself/ Most of my nights trying to get onto you/ I’m here in my room/ Up here in my room,” the track feels oddly prescient, given the large swaths of time we’ve spent isolated over the past 1 ½ years. Its inclusion here is undeniably commentary on the fractured, convoluted nature of romance brought on by the pandemic — and speaks to Wilkins’ profound ability to write songs that feel both comforting and jarring.

This latter quality is most salient on the track “Fake It,” which Wilkins has called her favorite on the mixtape . The lyrics are constantly engaged in a tightrope walk between bonkers (“Doll shoe in my vagina”) and ardent (“Friends dictate my identity/ I would like to know what they see.”) “Fake It” is unabashedly horny and hedonistic, yet still gloomy. It’s also self-aware to a painful extent. One gets the impression that the state of dissatisfaction with herself and the relationships that govern her life is doomed to persist. 

Wilkins also draws on material from singer-songwriter Harry Nilson for the mixtape’s closer, “Without Her.” At a tight 1 ½ minutes, the song is a somewhat anticlimactic end. Wilkins’ iteration sands down the extravagant violins and flutes that bejewel the original, allowing for the song’s emotional core to shine through. It’s unclear who Wilkins imagines “her” to be, but given the introspection of the rest of her discography, all signs point to Wilkins herself.

Catharsis and resilience dominate on The Incompatible Okay Kaya, refracted through Wilkins’ lucid lyricism and sparse instrumentation. With its heightened emphasis on loneliness and brutal self-realization, Wilkins has yet another worthy entrant into the sad, gross girl canon.

Contact Emma Murphree at [email protected].