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Karate | Unsolved (Southern)
Karate frontman Geoff Farina has a deliciously seductive way with words. Take "Soaked to that critical stage with the overdressed words of the well-meaning vague" (The Lived-But-Yet-Named) or better yet "Choked today on blank Tudor boldness as broken neighbours sucked through the seams of the shit they build with ostentatious walls" (The Angels Just Have To Show). You kind of know what he's talking about, enough of it makes sense, but it's the things that don't, the spaces and little fractures in our understanding that make the lyrics so rich and beguiling. The band perfectly mirror the slow building anxieties of the narratives with an inventive combination of bass, drums and guitar - a jazz power trio who can rock with a savage intensity (Sever) or ease down low with a subdued, effortless fluidity. Farina's guitar playing, especially, is a wonder to behold - not since Jerry Garcia has every note in a solo been so cleanly defined. The songs start slowly, Farina's breathy, urgent vocals reminiscent in their phrasing of Donald Fagen. As the tension builds, the band begin to step away from the 4/4 verse-chorus format, taking instead the probing, questioning structures of jazz and cloaking their music in them. Most of the tracks brew this way until they peak with little explosions of sound. The closing track, the eleven minute This Day Next Year, is exemplary in the way it strains and reaches towards the meteor shower of drums that finally put it to rest. Somehow, Karate have found a new idiom in the tired old notion of 'rock' music. Not jazz-rock, with the mathematical pedantries of John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny, this is more like some madman's idea of a cross between Lullaby for the Working Class, Steely Dan and The Minutemen, creating a fresh, heady brew that kicks ass without relying on noise and distortion. This is rock music. But not as we know it.
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001