Some Karate In Your Pockets
Sometimes I take a break from newer releases and revisit an old favorite once in a while. So from time to time I’m going to highlight a band who’s already disbanded but had a big influence on my early indie rock development. My first pick is somewhat of a predictable one to people who know me: Karate. This trio from Boston, MA formed in 1993 and 12 years, 6 albums and almost 700 shows later, they grudgingly disbanded. Members were switched around early on, but the primary core of Karate was solidified in 1997. Their attention to detail and perfectionism in song structures and in every note of their songs is something that remained consistent from the start of their career to their premature end. I’d classify them primarily as post-rock or jazz rock in their later years, but any way you want to describe them, they were original.
Karate– Their first and self-titled debut is still one of my top 10 albums. The range and attention to perfection in every stage of each song is admirable. Definitely one of the best indie records ever.
In Place Of Real Insight– This marks the first and only record that they went with a 2-guitar and 2-vocalist formula. This is also when they added Jeff Godard as their bassist and Eamonn Vitt switched to the aforementioned 2nd guitarist/2nd vocalist duties. This is when I began to doubt them. Vitt’s vocals weren’t as good as Farina’s and the songs he sang on were the worst on the record. They weren’t horrible, but they weren’t great either. A slight stumble, but no big deal. A solid 8.0/10.
The Bed Is In The Ocean– This is the first time we see the main trio that they stuck with over the years with the departure of Vitt to pursue a career in the medical community. This record is definitely a turning point. If there was any doubt that they’d lean towards post-rock, this album took those doubts and threw them out the window… possibly the one from the cover of their previous record. We can’t be sure. This also marks a turning point when they began to slow down the tempos of their songs a bit that they’d continue on their next record…
Unsolved– If The Bed Is In The Ocean was a slower record to you, this one practically stands still. No less brilliant, but no more faster either. They really took their time on this record on more than one level and though it was definitely a slow record, somehow it didn’t drag. The attention to detail is staggering at times because the format of a trio allows everything to come to the forefront without sticking out like a sore thumb. Add Farina’s unique vocals and it makes Unsolved truly one of a kind.
Cancel/Sing– This EP continues where Unsolved left off without missing a step. Still slower paced on both of these songs, the fact that these tracks last 11 and 15 minutes each is a bit troubling because I’d almost would have just settled for an EP with 4 or 5 songs. This is also a major turning point record because this marks Farina’s gradual trend towards more and longer solos on nearly every song. This helps and hurts songs a bit in the future, but at this point it was new and interesting.
Some Boots– After 9 years as a band, this record takes a dramatic turn away from post-rock towards more of a jazz-rock infused post-rock and comes out with one of the most interesting albums of the last decade. No longer trending slower-paced tempos, Some Boots is really a complete and varied record. Farina plays with delays quite a bit but never loses his unique insight and makes it work better than most. He’s one of the best and he demonstrates why time and again on this record…10/10
Pockets– This is Karate’s final studio album and the last stop on our little musical journey through time. Pockets takes a bit from Some Boots and expands on some of the jazzy elements. They also slow it down a bit like they did on The Bed Is In The Ocean, but they don’t go to any extremes in that direction. The solos did get a bit out of hand at times and sometimes it felt like the songs were almost built around an upcoming solo. Other than that, this was an excellent record and it makes me a little misty-eyed to know that it ended here.
Three years later, they followed this up with, 595, a live performance record that documented their 595th show in Stuk, Leuven, Belgium. I don’t review live albums. Ever. No one needs to be told whether to like a live album by a band they like and besides, live albums are for fans anyway. So this brings us to the end. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and maybe you even found something new here. I only wish I had some pictures from the house show I saw them play in El Paso in the late 90s…