Karate – Unsolved


Karate’s latest album easily made it onto my top ten list from last year, despite the fact that this is my first introduction to Karate and the band’s lead singer, Geoff Farina. Or maybe I love this album all the more because of that fact. I had no expectations, no comparisons. Rather, this album is complete and powerful on its own, and it’s so unique that it clearly stands alone.
For those unfamiliar, as I was, Karate’s music falls somewhere between soft rock, subtle jazz, and even a bit of a loungy feel. Every note feels played with precision and care so the music never runs together or overpowers the song. And tied together by Farina’s introspective and often flowing lyrics that are as much phrases and pieces as typical song lyrics, these songs are amazing. The first time I listened to this album was in the car, and I was swept away by these light yet perfectly flowing songs, the softly treading music, the hushed drum beats, and the intensity that was still somehow there.
“Small Fires” starts the album quiet and sparse, with soft bass and guitar lines accompanying Farina’s stream-of-consciousness style lyrics. This gives the song a very quiet and contemplative feel. I love the line, “Now I can tell by the way the rain hits the glass that it wants to be cold. It wants to be snow.” “The Lived-But-Yet-Named” has more of a loungy feel, with light drum beats and almost harmonious guitar lines. “Sever” gets things going a little faster, with amazing, crisp guitar and a bit more of a crunchy sound. The bass lines on this song are perfect and slightly throbbing. You’ll hear more of the jazzy side of Karate on the nicely flowing “The Roots and the Ruins” and the softer, more contemplative and loose side of the band on “Number Six.” I can’t get over how much Farina’s voice reminds me of Sting on this track and others to a lesser degree, and in fact, Sting’s forays into more bluesy, jazzy numbers are a bit reminiscent of Karate’s music. On the just slightly bluesy but very moody “One Less Blues” (which happens to contain some of the best blues-rock guitar playing this side of Clapton), Farina shows off his tendency for using words that just fit together: “Sulfer cool aid Minnesota … freezer burn.”
Probably the best song on the album, “The Halo of the Strange” shows off everything that’s wonderful about this band. The music is light and crisp and slightly jazzy and bluesy, the vocals are at times deep, at others just words strung together. And the entire song conveys a mood of quiet thoughtfulness, with some of the slickest guitar and bass interplay. There’s a darker, colder feel to “The Angels Just Have to Show” with some nice jamming to close things off. The final track, “This Day Next Year,” starts very quiet and mellow, and although it picks up at parts, it continues the more moody feel. This song goes on for 11 minutes, with moments of quiet jamming and parts with vocals flowing perfectly.
This album is long, with several songs breaking off into almost instrumental jams, one moment hushed and sparse, the next wailing away with almost a bluesy, classic rock sensibility. But every last minute of this album is perfect, form the quieter and more contemplative pieces to the louder and more rocking pieces. Karate has truly managed to mix a host of very different genres to make an album that’s at once completely new and yet wholly accessible. In fact, it’s nearly perfect.