I was going to criticize the crap out of this release. I was going to use harsh words like “bland” and “stale” and bitch about “not progressing” and “no one needing this kind of music today”. About filling this very narrow niche and feeling too comfortable doing it. I was even going to go as far as saying something along the lines of “music like this is giving trip-hop a bad name”. But then asked myself, what am I actually so pissed about? What is so damn wrong with Karmacoda’s new album Eternal that I’m fuming out of my ears? Then I tried to find answers to those questions, chilled for a bit, listened to the album a few more times and realized a few things. I realized that making such record today actually takes some guts (especially in the US). You can inject your sound with a bunch of trendy glitchy droney Botox or go all “electro-retro” and get everyone talking about “re-inventing your sound” and staying on top of things, or you can stay true to yourself and make the music that you want to make and infuriate all the smartass blogger reviewers like yours truly. Or, maybe even worse, – get ignored by them, because… yeah, “no one needs this kind of music today”. Well, guess what. You have no idea how many people do need this kind of music. Today. That infamous ‘niche’ has been either empty or filled with all kinds of “related genre” junk for wa-a-ay too long. And whenever something comes out that fits that niche as it was made for it (because it was) – lots and lots of people are genuinely and utterly happy. Karmacoda is not Portishead and never tried to be. Geoff Barrow is mad when Portishead’s tracks are used in relaxation therapy ads, I’m sure Heather Pierce & Co wouldn’t mind at all. In fact, this album, – unlike many records reviewed here before that require thorough listening as a whole, – could easily be taken apart song by song and used in all kinds of compilations, soundtracks, ads, mall boutique muzak. And yes, I’ll say it again, there’s nothing wrong with that. On those rare occasions when I do find myself in mall boutiques (usually accompanying my wife and playing Angry Birds) I’m glad when they play something I can actually enjoy and nod my head to as opposed to, you know, Maroon 5. Most of the album is filled with bright, lighthearted tunes that float and sparkle like raindrops in slow motion. “Into Each Life” (not an Ella Fitzgerald cover) is a chillout delight with kaleidoscopic vocals and very apposite strings. “In A Little Bit” is guaranteed to get stuck in your head for days thanks to its catchy piano loop and the crystal bells of Heather Pierce‘s voice. What my real problem with Eternal is though, it’s that the tracks I liked the most reminded me of something that I’ve heard before and from other people. “Epic” and even more so its “Eternal Reprise” inevitably brought to mind Hooverphonic down to the echoing strings (and echoing everything) – but I loved the beat and the drama of the vocals. And “Love Will Turn Your Head Around” featuring not one but two fabulous guest vocalists – Beth Hirsch and Anji Bee, I immediately nicknamed ‘Massive Attack Lite’, which is really a compliment, but still, I would like to hear more of Karmacoda in Karmacoda, and less of “this one trip-hop band that sounds pretty much like every other trip-hop band”. As long as it doesn’t have that awkward pop-music playfulness of “Somewhat”. Still, production quality is superb, vocals vary from good to ‘to die for’ and overall Eternal is like a drink that you enjoyed and got a bit of a buzz from and wanted another but realized that it’s closing time and you ran out of money.
R.I.Y.L. Hooverphonic, Olive, sunrise
personal favs: “Epic”, “Love Will Turn Your Head Around” (feat. Beth Hirsch and Anji Bee), “Into Each Life”