REVIEW: KARMAKANIC – “DOT”
Since their formation in 2002, Karmakanic have released four studio albums, two live albums and have now returned with their latest effort ‘DOT.’ The bands bass player and founder, Jonas Reingold, says he got the inspiration for ‘DOT’ upon stumbling across a text by the famous American scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan, in which Sagan wrote about“how small and insignificant we are in this vast universe.”Reading this, a moment, an idea and a fifth record, ‘DOT’, was born.Unlike Sagan’s universe, there is nothing small or insignificant about ‘DOT’, with Sagan‘s thought adapted and re-imagined on a scale only Karmakanic can.
We begin with the album titled intro ‘DOT.’ This short, eerie piece is, for the most part, made up of a broken signal of sorts trying to cut through or make contact. Layered upon a synth sound that creates a lost in space atmosphere. Already the listener feels that this unsettling start is not meant to take place in the world we know, but somewhere just above it. Before long a strong, sharp and inhuman sound interrupts this mood. The wind chimes that follow bring us back to earth as the intro comes to an end and the first song begins.
To call “God – the universe and everything no one really cares about” a song would be to do it an injustice. In truth, it’s more a symphony of sorts. Presented in two parts over the course of ‘DOT’ and spanning a running time just shy of thirty minutes, it is an elaborate composition and (in typical symphony fashion) seems to work around four movements that the band revisit at various times.A continuation occurs as wind chimes ease us into this complex and multi-layered track as the wide array of musicians featured on this album begin to emerge. Lead vocals by Göran Edman are a breath of air and rest easily upon the music which initially takes on a cross between Steve Wilson’s Porcupine Tree and Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. A hybrid baby for both Goth and Prog fans alike! Before long the insanity drops off into a piano piece that oozes a seedy Jazz bar vibe for a time before taking off in another direction. Folky Spanish guitar complimented by pan flutes join the mix and shortly after we arrive at the ten-minute mark things start to come together beautifully. A predominantly feminine sounding choir conveys innocence in this otherwise quite heavy piece. Though lyrically preachy at times, in harmony alongside Edman‘s range this eclectic mix of vocal styles and music works wonderfully well together. As we approach this epic’s end we encounter an instrumental battle. Often chaotic, yet well executed, the track comes together in a different, more celebratory light in its final moments.For a piece so complex and elaborate it holds the listener’s attention well. In parts the transitions feel a little too random when they could have been smoother, but this does not take away from the overall execution which is both powerful and occasionally moving.
Edman sings “I grew up in a little town” in the opening moments of “Higher Ground “as Karmakanic take us on a scenic journey to the moon and back. Passing through a little wooden house, through meadows and constellations alike, all are well realized through lyrical and musical depiction. Lalle Larsson on keyboards and Andy Tillison on the Hammond organ play a dominant role in relaying this musically. The words “Here we stand in no man’s land” find the song ending not quite where it began. Here the reminiscence of a boy turned man find within him the bitter realization that the value of his sentiments towards home are outweighed by the harsh and soured reality he finds himself in at present. Whilst not as complex as “’God – the universe and everything no one really cares about,” “Higher Ground” has little competition for standout track on ‘DOT.’ Of course, little competition does not mean any competition. “Steer by the Stars” is entirely on par with “Higher Ground” for the albums standout track only because the two are in no way alike. Where “Higher Ground” sways through fond nostalgia and a sombre melancholy “Steer by the Stars,” while not surpassing it,is as uplifting and feel good as they come,no doubt leaving any 80’s anthemic bands wishing they had written it first.
“Travelling Minds” feels like a ballad at first, until Reingold swoops in on bass effortlessly working his way around the neck and through the song. The use of choir harmonies once again treads on the preachy, risking and almost oozing everything is wonderful and the world is great Glee mentality that does not quite fit what this album is trying to depict. As a result, it falls flat in its efforts and we are left with only the albums finale, the second and final part to “God – the universe and everything no one really cares about” to save the day. Even though there is not necessarily a need for this second part, which does not do much in the way of enhancing or capitalizing on the first, it still feels like it has a place here. Maybe not the album closer some would like, as the group have proved they are capable of dynamic writing, but in creating a circular link, like the closing movement of a symphony, it still has a place still.
It is both hard to believe and a welcome treat that all the above takes place in only five songs and an intro that barely does one round on the big hand of your wrist watch. Yet there you have it! Which begs the question: is ‘DOT’ a glorified EP? Many would suggest that an album comprised of such a short amount of tracks should struggle to be referred to as an album at all. However, there have always been concept albums, two track albums, so many diverse and fluid approaches to albums that this position says more about the individual than the album itself. ‘DOT’ is an album doing everything an album should. It does everything an artist should! Does it need work? Sure. But excellence does not require perfection and quite frankly, perfection is boring. ‘DOT’ takes you on a journey that does not necessarily answer any questions at the end, and that is part of its beauty. Moving, challenging expectations, ‘DOT’ take an innovative and experimental approach, symphonic in breadth that is ultimately uplifting.