Kasio finds electro-pop comfort

by Dan Haugen

Pulling a tiny, toy-looking keyboard from her box of equipment, the tall, dark-haired 22-year-old on stage apologized.

“I’m playing a little different set tonight,” said Kasi Engler, the sole musician behind local electro-pop project Kasio. “I’m feeling a little high on cold medicine right now, so I’d probably get too confused if I had all my drum machines with me.”

The one-woman, cyborg project began about a year ago with a guitar Engler’s owned since high school and a mess of keyboards and electronics that has since continued to grow.

“I’d been doing songs and music for a while, but I had just really gotten into electronic music, along with a lot of cross-over indie bands that use keyboards and electronics and blend them in really well,” said Engler. “It just sorta interested me…stuff like Trans Am or The Faint.”

By the end of her 20-minute, stripped-down set at the Dinkytowner last Sunday, Engler proved that, with or without her entire electronic foundation, her bleak, minimalist pop songs still stand strong.

On her first and only Kasio recording thus far, an unreleased single called “Want To Be,” Engler’s deep, breathy voice brings to mind both Beth Orton and Eleni Mandell, finding a perfect home on a plain of electronic blips and drum machine ticks.

“That was something I recorded with [fellow local musician] Mark Mallman,” said Engler. “He had just gotten some computer software and knew that I didn’t have anything recorded. It was just something we did really quick one night so he could test out his stuff and just so I could sort of have something. I didn’t really expect it to get played on the radio.”

Humble as she appears in person, Engler’s songs are, if not happy, at least comfortable with their slightly dark surroundings. Any angst is buried in her almost monotone, steady voice as she opens “Want To Be” singing “I could vilify the memory of you/I could shoot you mean eyes/when you walk in the room,” before the resolving chorus of “but that’s not/not/who I want to be.”

In other songs, Engler reminisces long-distance drives, confesses the pros and cons of a short memory and longs to leave her tiny apartment for a house with a big backyard. With already enough songs for a full-length, Enger plans to spend much of this winter recording in preparation for a shorter release or two next year.

“One of my older brothers does computer stuff for a living and so he’s setting me up with a PC with all this recording and music software on it. So hopefully I’ll get that in October,” said Engler. “I’m just excited to see what happens when I have access to more sounds and I can record more easily. Right now, it’s a long process for me to make a beat, because I have this half broken drum machine and have to record it onto a four-track. It’s this archaic process that ends up being really frustrating and time consuming. I think once I get my computer I’ll be freed up to just concentrate on ideas and just let them come out.”

Kasio plays tomorrow at sursumcorda (319 First Ave. N, Mpls., 612-436-0700) with M45 and DJ A-Net. 9 p.m. $4. 21+. Kasio also plays Saturday at the Uptown Bar (3018 Hennepin Ave., S., Mpls., 612-823-4719) with Katastrophy Wife and the Sugar Divas as part of the Sound Unseen festival. 9:30 p.m. $5. 21+.

Dan Haugen is The Lens music editor. He welcomes comments at [email protected].