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