Review – Djam Karet – Sonic Celluloid – by Progradar

Djam Karet (pronounced ‘jam care-RAY) is an Indonesian word that translates loosely as “elastic time”.

Djam Karet was founded in 1984 by guitarists Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson, bassist Henry J. Osborne, and drummer Chuck Oken, Jr., and continue making new music even to this day, 33 years later! So far … they have released 18 full-length albums, including the newest release ‘Sonic Celluloid’ (as well as an additional 24 minor releases and EPs and compilations, see the discography).

Compared by the press with King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Ozric Tentacles and Porcupine Tree, they are credited with breathing new life into progressive rock, leading the way to the genre’s future growth. The California-based instrumental group has often been called America’s greatest undiscovered band.

To my ears this most inventive of bands has always been a psychedelic instrumental sounding board and their musical ideas have always expanded and evolved to give the listener a real Smörgåsbord of acoustic delights. When Gayle asked me if I would be interested in reviewing ‘Sonic Celluloid’ it was a definite no-brainer!

Sonic Celluloid includes all four founding members of Djam Karet: Chuck Oken jr, Henry Osborne, Mike Henderson, and Gayle Ellett, as well as Aaron Kenyon and Mike Murray. All six play (to varying degrees) on the new album. Everyone contributed as much or as little as they wanted to, with the huge bulk of the work being done mostly by Ellett and Oken.

This new release is as cinematic as they come, little musical-movies running in your mind as you listen to the tracks, opener Saul Says So has a really electronic, 70’s sci-fi feel running throughout. Quite dark and moody in style at the start, it has you on the edge of your seat before it opens up into something akin to a psychedelic revelation, only one that is experienced in a supremely leisurely fashion. It seems to float across your synapses, leaving a gentle memory everywhere where the intricate guitar playing touches your mind. Forced Perspective takes that soundscape and leads it on a convoluted, meandering journey with a Southern California vibe, edgy drums, funky bass and super smooth electronica transport you to vast landscapes of sound in your mind. There’s more of that psychedelia that I come to expect from this exceedingly expressive band, I just close my eyes and let the music wash over me. It brings to mind independent art movie soundtracks, cerebral music for the connoisseur.

The muted classical music inspired intro to Long Shot makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Subdued minimalistic synths bring to mind Jean-Michel Jarre and even a touch of early Kraftwerk to the 70’s nostalgia reunion that is going on in my mind. I begin to think of films like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ as the track evolves into a kind of Prog inspired sci-fi melodrama. It really is an intricate sepia-tinged cinematic delight. No Narration Needed starts with a full-on free form jazz trumpet before the music takes on a more suspenseful tone layered with atmospheric keyboards and electronica. There’s a timeless aura to this track, like a primordial beast that has lived across epochs and never notices the short lived lives of the pitiful humans who inhabit its planet. A medieval sounding guitar and flute then punctuate the stillness to add a layer of calm and collection. This is a track that engenders meditation and reflection and has dignity and character at its core. There are some great titles to the tracks on this release, Numerous Mechanical Circles being one of them and it is a musical composition that seems to grow around you, the flute sounds and electronic synthesisers forming a symbiosis with an almost alien quality to it. It moves across your mind in a slow but sure manner, all the time in the world to achieve its purpose. I can sense a slight apprehension in the occasionally caustic keyboards and the hesitant voice you hear in the background has a spooky, mystical ambience to it, it is disturbing but in a very enjoyable way.

The sounds of waves and seabirds opens Oceanside Exterior, a rhythmic and meditative piece of music that flows through space and time and engenders images in your mind of powerful oceans braking on immovable rocks, time and space standing still against the majesty of nature. This is music as an elemental force but one that has no need to be brash and in your face. The incredibly laid back guitar playing is utterly addictive and is best experienced through a pair of high-end headphones with a great quality glass of wine in your hand. 70’s synths come back strongly on Au Revoir Au Reve, a strong sentimental note can be felt all over this wistful track. Dreamy and fanciful with a Gallic undertone, you could be walking the streets of 1950’s Paris, a suavely dressed detective in the seedy underbelly of this great city. The plaintive guitar is full of angst, perhaps railing against an unsolved crime, who knows but you feel the pain. A masterful piece of music that, once again, has your furtive mind working overtime.

Pink Floyd guitar notes are very evident at the opening of Flashback, a more hard-edged track that has an incredible depth to it, like it has survived eons in the primordial soup of creation. It seems to be treading water, awaiting what, we don’t know. There is a timeless grandeur and stature to every note, especially when the powerfully cultured guitar breaks out. The synths are the stage on which Gayle’s fiery, blues infused guitar takes centre stage. Lower has a post-rock gravity to it, the elegant keyboards glide around you as the mournful guitar tells its seemingly grief stricken tale. A soulfully forlorn piece of music that propagates a sombreness deep in your heart and soul and moves you inside. Another excellently titled track closes out the album, The Denouement Device is music that stimulates a sonic journey for your body and soul, music that will have differing effects on different people. Intense and thought provoking, a wide-ranging and all-encompassing sound that fills your entire being with a feeling of wonderment and lets you see things with a childlike innocence. Genuine, contemplative and thoughtful yet it treats you with kid gloves as it strips you of any pre-conceived ideas and back to your bare soul.

‘Sonic Celluloid’ is yet another triumph for this ever inventive band. An intricate instrumental tour-de-force that takes the listener on a cinematic journey through ever-evolving soundscapes engendered in their own mind. Djam Karet are the masters of cerebral, intelligent music for the erudite listener and have delivered a superlative musical odyssey once again.

Released 27th January 2017

Buy ‘Sonic Celluloid’ direct from the band’s store

Buy ‘Sonic Celluloid’ from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Honourable Mentionables and Wallet Emptiers of 2015 – by Progradar

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So, I’ve done my ‘Best of 2015’ list but there were so many that nearly made the list and should still be on your ‘Wallet Emptying’ selection that I couldn’t let 2015 close out without giving them a mention………..

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Mandala – Midnight Twilight

Psychedelic, dark and groovy.

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Mew – +/-

Uplifting and slightly mental.

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Progoctopus (now Oktopus) – Transcendence E.P.

Cracking Progressive rock with an unusual edge.

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The Enid – The Bridge

Symphonic, classical, brilliant.

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Franck Carducci – Torn Apart

Progressive, bluesy, funky and with a whole lot of soul and some scorching guitar solos, love it!

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Djam Karet – Swamp of Dreams

What they do is make brilliant, spaced-out, psychedelic music that could only come from Djam Karet and ‘Swamp of Dreams’ is a perfect example of their skill and flair.

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Corvus Stone – Unscrewed

Mad bad and brilliantly dangerous, whether you’ll come out the other side with all your mental faculties is another matter entirely.

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Unified Past – Shifting the Equlibrium

It’s Power-Prog, will it appeal to everyone? I doubt it but, those that do appreciate this band’s excellent music have really dropped lucky this time, well done chaps!

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3rDegree – Ones & Zeros Volume 1

2015 continues to deliver some very high quality releases and 3RDegree have muscled their way well up that list.

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Kinetic Element – Travelog

It feels like a labour of love and the skill, energy, blood, sweat and tears that have been invested in this production can be felt by all who hear it.

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Geof Whitely Project – Supernatural Casualty

I found ‘Supernatural Casualty’ to be a box of delights. At sixteen tracks it is perhaps two or three songs too long but that doesn’t detract from what is a thoroughly satisfying piece of music.

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Methexis – Suiciety

Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release.

 

 

Review – Djam Karet – Swamp of Dreams – by Progradar

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“We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.” – Milan Kundera

When you have accomplished a lot of things in your life, it is sometimes worth stepping back and taking a retrospective view of what you have achieved. Not to say that what you did in the past was better but, perhaps, to say, “That was where I started, this is where I am now….”

Yes, always looking back can actually be self-defeating but only if you do not progress and use those memories to become bigger and better than what you were originally.

For musicians especially, I think it is great to re-visit some of your earlier music and remember what it was that influenced you originally and how you took those influences to improve on your sound and songwriting.

I am not advocating dragging out the old hits to produce a cash cow for retirement and the new release from Djam Karet is a perfect example. ‘Swamp of Dreams’ is a collection of older tunes that were originally only available as individual tracks on different compilation CDs and fund raiser albums, released between 1990 and 2006.

With this album, their 18th full-length release, Djam Karet are making this long-lost music available again to a much wider audience. The six tracks are sequenced chronologically with each song taking you further back in time. Re-mastered with greater clarity and increased dynamic range, it retains all that is good about the music of Djam Karet, a band who have been making music since 1984.

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The first track on this release, Voodoo Chases The Muse is a funky, psychedelic fun-fest that is a musical acid trip for the mind. The driving rhythm section warps your psyche while the excellent, sharp-edged guitar work really strikes a chord. The weird 70’s edge is kept together by some distinctly freaky keyboards and you are left feeling like you are caught in someone’s feverish imagined version of what 70’s music is all about. Stoner Rock? No….. Totally Stoned Rock would be more like it….

The next step back in time is The Shattering Sky, now the band openly state that they make their music with no regard to potential radio play or commercial success and this track is a true testament to that ideal. It starts quite interesting, like a sci-fi soundtrack before some fuzzy guitar blurs the edges. Urgent and edgy, as if it is just about to flee, it gets right into the little nooks and crannys of the deepest parts of your mind. A musical mind control drug maybe as it looms ominously in your consciousness. The second part of the track sees some incredibly flexible bass playing, backed energetic drums which all adds to the psychological drama.

Using our musical TARDIS, we edge back through the years with the equally creepy Pentimento, a track with an utterly otherworldy feel to it. If you told me that this was a song that was intended for use on the soundtrack for 2001 : A Space Odussey, I wouldn’t be surprised. It sits in the back of your mind, influencing your thoughts with tribal-like percussion and convoluted guitars. You never quite feel comfortable with the music, it is like something darkly dangerous, like a fix you know you shouldn’t take but need nonetheless. Let’s just say it is very ‘out there’, the undulating beat and heavy, portentous rhythm are quite hypnotic and trance-like in their execution.

Heading further back through the eons we arrive at New Light On The Dark Age, which begins with a slight note of alien dissonance. Another mysterious journey to the deepest recesses of your inner soul. This is a slow burning, deliberate voyage with sequencer driven rhythms and leaves you holding your breath, your heart hammering in your chest as you wonder what awaits around the next corner. With an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of Krautrock and Stoner Rock, it opens up into a much more composed mind-set, as if the destination is more paradise than hell-hole.

With the musical treadmill still in reverse Inventions of the Monsters begins with a feel of being lost in a prehistoric jungle, surrounded by fabulous, incredible creatures that you only thought existed in your mind. It is a hesitant, ominous atmosphere, as if you are the alien and your surroundings are foreign to you. You feel at a disadvantage, uncertain as the brooding music washes over you. As you step cautiously through the menacing synthesised sounds, a huge sense of foreboding descends upon you. I let out a nervous laugh when the sound of cat emerges from the speakers and it doesn’t sound like a happy feline either. This song is spine chillingly spooky in deliciously eerie manner, don’t turn the lights out whatever you do, I did warn you…..

Our travails in the H.G Wells time machine reach their end with the title track Swamp of Dreams and it feels like a nostalgic track, mysterious, supernatural and uncanny. I’m sure this so-called ‘Time Machine’ has dropped us bang in the middle of an episode of Patrick McGoohan’s ‘The Prisoner’, are we now Number 6 ? Unique and quite single minded, it really does have a feel of something totally experimental before it opens up into a funky 80’s style instrumental with jangling guitars, spaced-out synths and one of the best basslines you’ll hear in many a year. It has a more sparse, natural feel to it than the previous tracks, perhaps due to it being the earliest track on the album and yet it is still distinctly Djam Karet with the wailing guitar solo and analog synthesisers and is a fine way to close this retrospective.

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I have been a fan of Djam Karet for a while now, their deeply felt commitment and uncompromising vision do not make for music that will appeal to everyone and, to be honest, they don’t care. Their critical acclaim and long time cult following prefer this ‘in your face’ attitude and I’d include myself in that. What they do is make brilliant, spaced-out, psychedelic music that could only come from Djam Karet and ‘Swamp of Dreams’ is a perfect example of their skill and flair. Take the inflexible and obstinate route and you may find that you’ll love it too!

Released 9th October 2015

Buy Swamp of Dreams direct from Djam Karet