Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reviews:: Karl Blau AM 2.0

When I reviewed Karl Blau's Dance Positive record last year, I really had no idea who the singer was and to be fair, not much has changed. I only listened to the CD with the photocopied cover because he's from Anacortes and we had just got back from a road trip there.

But, make no mistake, Blau is an incredible talent. He's just one that dwells in the corners and shadows, refusing to force his way into the spotlight. I mean, he's had three positive reviews from Pitchfork, worked with Phil Elvrum and tours with Laura Veirs, and yet he still toils away in relative obscurity mailing out creative recordings on a DIY label.

Blau's lo-fi work crackles like one of those intimate conversation in a quiet corner or on a fire escape, just out of earshot of the rest of the party. It's one of those talks that is heavy in emotion and leaves you refreshed and inspired, but somehow completely drained as well. The next morning you try to remember what you said in your drunken haze, but instead you keep coming back to the clear, concise thoughts coming from the other side of the discussion.

The thing is, despite the spontaneous feel of the record, you can tell Blau really thought out each and every action. From the subject matter - the record is based on the writing of A.A. Milne - to the seemingly lose guitar and drum sounds, Blau's arrangements are intricate and calculated. The way he combines so many styles and genres but manages to combine them in a way that is completely his own is not something that just happens. Spring Morning is a perfect example - the melodica, the bass line and straight ahead vocals really expose a rough and ready reggae inspired track, but it's the snare sound that really makes the song. On the surface, you might think the song just kind of fell into place, but I can see Blau analyzing every detail, every combination of sounds.

Lake King's Daughter finds a more fluid groove by meshing charming guitar notes with some almost off tempo synths, creating a warm glow around his understated vocals. Bird Song settles into an effortless sincerity with the twinkling notes that dance off in the distance and harmonies, which is fantastic because the drum, horns and Hayden-ish vocals would be more than enough to make the song work. The constant shifts and wrinkles let your mind run wild as the record floats by. It grabs your attention and at the same time lets your thoughts drift to cherished memories. It's incredibly familiar, but at the same time something completely new. Not many records could mix grunge and tribal rhythms, but AM does just that.

The re-release of AM should find Blau finding a bigger home - it's on a label and his ramshackle percussion and instrumental flourishes are much more accepted by music lovers now - but I can't imagine it will change the music he writes. I mean, he remastered and resequenced this and it's still retains that great lo-fi feel. Blau has the talent to dive into bigger, bolder compositions, I just don' t think he wants to and it's that dedication and love to his sound is something I respect more and more with each listen.

[MP3]:: Lake King's Daughter
[MP3]:: Stream
[MP3]:: Spring Morning

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Posted at 2:18 PM by ack :: 3 comments

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At 12:50 AM, Anonymous dannyspkrspkr did sayeth:

Karl Blau is really cool. There is a really awesome little scene happening in Anacortes with bands like the Lonely Forest and venues like the Department of Safety. Maybe people like Karl Blau will put Anacortes on the map...


At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous did sayeth:

Dear dannyspkrspkr,

where have you been for the past 10 years or so?


At 12:41 AM, Anonymous dannyspkrspkr did sayeth:

Ha! I'm not going to argue with you on the fact that things have been happening there for a while, but I am going to say that it has been a quiet scene, with little fanfare or recognition. I'm just saying that I hope it gets at least a few moments of national recognition, like Little Rock did.


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