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Karate | Some Boots (Southern)
In some ways, Karate's fifth album revisits previous musical themes and, due to the inherent understanding that develops over time between such collaborative musicians, updates and improves on what has gone before. Less jazz-heavy overall than 2000's 'Unsolved', vocalist/guitarist Geoff Farina mixes and melds a variety of styles to keep the listener on his toes. On opener Original Spies he begins with some funky chords and towards the end of the extended solo, introduces some great dub moments, recalling the Rolling Stones early '80s flirtation with the genre. Between these he pulls out some heavy single-note riffing, tremelo arm controlled feedback and classic blues-rock licks. The song also features one of his most assured vocal performances and customarily visual imagery. "I too want change," he proclaims, "I'm not talking about faith; I will pay for evidence of the numbness and pain of anyone with guns, the money or planes." Farina remains one of contemporary music's most lucid lyricists, throwing out tongue-twisting lines like he does shapes from his guitar. The result is often compelling and involving, and, as with the 'chorus' of Original Spies, carries a hefty emotional punch ?? "With trusty foresight will the sun still rise? / Will strained new days, saturated with strange / Contain your relocated slang and those incredible eyes?" On First Release Farina mourns the passing of a golden age and the music that provided its soundtrack. "Come's still around but the band doesn't play... / When I'm alone I want to feel like a kid getting stoned / Only to keep things a little more clear / Just to be able to hold on to a simple idea." His lyrics here are reminiscent of the intimate four-track musings of his first solo album, 'Usonian Dream Sequence' and more conventionally narrative than much of his work. I'm reliably informed that Ice or Ground? details a 'dialogue between two long-time political activists who challenge each others' ideals by responding to Newt Gingrich's recent sentiment that Afghan citizens will be thankful to the United States Government because the (then-) ensuing war will surely result in indoor plumbing for most of Middle Asia' (thanks to the press release for that). What I can say with some certainty is that Stevie Ray Vaughan would be proud of the boy Farina's chops on this. The laid-back South is a rumination on "lazy angels" over caressed cymbals and jazz shapes, and In Hundreds sees a return to a more aggressive, almost math-rock structure. With soul of course. One of the album's shortest tracks, Airport is classic latter-day Karate, jazzy guitar (the solo avec wah-wah), Jeff Goddard's loping bass line and Gavin McCarthy's immaculate drum patterns, perfectly matched. McCarthy is superb on the following Baby Teeth too, hi-hat intro giving way to around-the-kit rolls and fills, punctuated with 'choked' cymbals, Farina back on wah-wah duty and linking it to the previous song lyrically too ?? "I miss them as much as they miss me" from Airport reworked as "I am missed. You are missed." The album's longest cut, Corduroy, takes its time, meandering guitar figures and lazy ascending/descending chords drift on barely audible percussion before a snapped snare and a spiteful, tremelo-friendly solo from Farina break the spell midway through its 8:44 duration. To close, the band choose their shortest song of the set, Remain Relaxed a soothing three minute ballad set "on Autumn's edge out near the woods," with an elegant guitar break as clear and crisp as the November air. It's a subdued ending to as varied and intense an album as Karate have thus far produced; they remain a unique voice within the 'indie-rock' realm they find themselves conveniently bound to.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002