Friday 22 March 2024

Karkara - All is Dust (2024)

Country: France
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 22 Mar 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

This is Karkara's third album but it's my first experience of their work and I'm impressed. They're a psychedelic rock trio from Toulouse who play lively songs with space rock synths. Given where the music goes, I'd be happy for this to be entirely instrumental, but I'm not going to complain about the vocals, courtesy of both guitarist Karim R. and drummer Maxime M., because they're deep in the mix, so they work more like another instrument than as a delivery mechanism for lyrics. They do end up going instrumental much of the time and I never felt like I was missing anything by not truly acknowledging a single word.

They lean towards longer songs, all six on offer running between six and nine and a half minutes. My favourites are a couple of the shorter ones, Anthropia over The Chase, both of them squeaking over the line at a whisper under seven minutes each, but I was just as transported by longer songs, the elements that nudged those two to the top of the heap being specific instruments. Anthropia has an even more gorgeous bass groove from Hugo O. than the other songs, while The Chase gets wild in its second half, courtesy of a slower tempo and a truly wild saxophone from guest musician Jérome Bievelot, moving it from space rock to stalker jazz.

Time was that the saxophone was a soft rock instrument, but, courtesy perhaps of John Zorn, it's become quite the versatile addition to pretty much any genre on the rock and metal spectrum, a sentence that my teenage self back in the eighties wouldn't have believed. From prog rock to dark jazz to black metal, it's showing up everywhere nowadays and it elevates a post-black metal outfit like White Ward just as much as a prog rock project like Shamblemaths or a gothic rock band like The Matter of A, doing something different every single time. Even within psychedelic rock, how Solar Corona or The Fërtility Cült use sax is completely different to how Karkara do.

There are obvious influences here, but this is mostly a relatively unique sound to me. There's lots of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on Monoliths and across the album as a whole, but it has to be underlined that it's hard to borrow the sound of a band so versatile that they don't even sound like themselves most of the time. Karkara takes their King Gizzard nod from the Nonagon Infinity album, which is still my favourite by them, and especially in the vocal delivery, but there's more of a middle eastern flavour here and more Hawkwind too. There's lots of Hawkwind on The Chase and elsewhere too, both their patented drive and in the space rock keyboards. There's even some Pink Floyd here, from their Ummagumma era, in the intro to Moonshiner and not just because of those tweeting birds.

Perhaps Karkara took Nonagon Infinity and Ummagumma and Quark, Strangeness and Charm and threw them into a blender, but there's more of that middle eastern sound than could have started out on Hassan i Sabah. Maybe they've been listening to Nepal Death too. Maybe they've just seen a vision of how this connects to that and what should be layered over the top to make Karkara. The intricate cover art with its almost but not quite symmetry certainly suggests that. Maybe I'm just missing a sonic ingredient. I'd love to know what that might be!

This new sound has a lot of consistency, so you can throw any song on at random and still find what Karkara do. I haven't listened through on shuffle yet, but I don't think it would matter too much, a slower vibe that flows from The Chase to On Edge and the glorious transition from Moonshiner to Anthropia notwithstanding. However, even on a first listen, they distinguish themselves and each time through only enhances that. It's not just The Chase going slow and wild with that saxophone, the tweeting birds on Moonshiner and how All is Dust gets seriously angry a couple of minutes in, like a punk band wandered into the studio and joined in for a while, pausing politely so Bievelot's sax can take us somewhere else entirely and in a very different way to The Chase.

The bottom line is that I liked this from the outset but it gets better as it goes and it's all growing on me still after six or seven times through. Psychedelic rock is the gift that keeps on giving right now for me and it's fast becoming my favourite genre to lose myself in. Whatever a particular day brings, it's a welcoming barrier to dive through, let me explore for a while and eventually retreat back to the real world. This may well become another 8/10 that moves up to a 9/10 in time.

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