hilst each generation produces an officially accepted clutch of record labels that are permitted access to the executive toilets by virtue of their perceived contribution to the musical landscape (I’m thinking Warp, Factory, Trojan etc.), there are always those who never quite penetrate the imprint cabal despite making some genre defining noise. Tolling away in the background with admirable avidity and flair are a raft of (predominantly) independents, which enrich the ears of many but fail to get canonized due to a variety of factors; ranging from the herd mentality of the mainstream music press right through to Ye Olde luck. One such label is the German based Karaoke Kalk.
Having sprouted from the undefined hinterland between Cologne School-style minimal Techno and the fledgling acoustic/electronic scene, Karaoke Kalk quickly established a commendable open-door policy that kept quality high and genre boundaries decidedly liquid. Alongside the release of the litigation-baiting Girls On Top 12”, Karaoke Kalk’s heterogeneous roster can (in part at least) be credited with the explosion of borderless DJing and bastard pop that shined so brightly, but so briefly, a few years back (documented and destroyed by 2 Many DJs’ As Heard On Radio Soulwax mixes). Yet it is for another contribution to the contemporary music scene that Karaoke Kalk should really garner more credit; the dreaded Folktronica…
Although widely derided as a bag of introspective bollocks, many of the artists who got lumped into this wet-wool genre really are anything but. So whilst the likes of Four Tet, Pedro, Minotaur Shock, Caribou, and Colleen often find themselves sullied by this unsavoury (and plainly wrong) genre tag, there is nonetheless a definite shared heritage that unites their relatively disparate output. With a CSI-like flourish, a potential DNA source is established through Jörg Follert’s Wunder; an album released in the late 90’s by Karaoke Kalk which brought together the blues samples and recalcitrant electronics that have gone on to dominate the home-listening stratum ever since. Whilst it’s always simple to highlight non-existent evolutionary threads in retrospect and there is always the danger of attributing artists to a shared genealogy which has no foundation in the real world, Karaoke Kalk did unarguably have a tacit impact that is generally overlooked. FACT!
So there you have it, with the history lesson over and its position secured in the Stylus annals, Karaoke Kalk have decided to look to the future with their eclectic Kalk Seeds compilation. Unequivocally forward facing, the sixteen tracks (and one video clip) gathered here include ten exclusives plucked from Karaoke Kalk’s merry-go-round roster and a handful of prime cuts from their existing back catalogue. But with such a broad spectrum of styles to pick from, how do you open the compilation? In this case they’ve wisely adjudged that a seething hunk of show-stealing electro-pop is the way to go, with Roman leading the Kalk brigade. Initially sounding like a cross between Aphex Twin’s “Isopropanol” and Prefuse 73’s “The End of Biters – International,” the nosebleed intro of “Saving Juno” soon gives way to an utterly compelling and eminently friable distillation that makes the shared DNA genres of Indietronica and Electro-pop so damn moreish. Equal parts Junior Boys, Jamie Lidell, The Go Find, Fairport Convention, and The Moonflowers, Roman allows the cramped glitches and folk overtones of the didactic verses (“What have you done to your opponent? You’re on the run into a dead-end…”), to juxtapose breathlessly with the soaring cold-water synths and bottled choirs of the chorus. Undoubtedly what Max Tundra was aiming for with the over indulgent mess of “Lysine,” Roman’s “Saving Juno” is totally infectious and prefaces the rest of Kalk Seeds with a laconic energy that’s only fault is its potential to overshadow all that follows.
After this twinkle-toed entry, the sequencing wisely shifts down a gear with Hausmesiter’s “Pumer,” constituting an analogue bubble bath in the most literal of senses (sudsy rhythms and Plone dripping taps) whilst Sora & Wechsel Garland’s “Spring” is a soft centered appropriation of the late David Tyack’s Twisted Nerve work, albeit given a fresh lick of paint. Although undoubtedly similar in tone, they differ greatly in sound; a point reinforced by Takagi Masakatsu’s “Mio Pianto.” Structured around a brain itchingly familiar melody that remains tantalizingly out of reach throughout (for me at least), Masakatsu carves a rich arrangement from her fragile instrumentation that buoys the wooden hearted vocals perfectly. Highly reminiscent of Natalie Beridze’s “Gorod,” “Mio Pianto” would suggest a strong lineage between the campfire folk of Eastern Europe and Japan whilst providing enough of a contrast with what has gone before to legitimately garner the ‘eclectic’ tag.
Considering the sheer breadth of material contained within Kalk Seeds, it’s a refreshing surprise to see just how few mistakes are perpetrated in the name of diversity. Kandis’ “Letter” adheres to the camera obscura school of electronica, where a stunted palate extends well beyond its reasonable boundaries, the Mathew Herbert endorsed Donna Regina exploit a similar burlesque vein to Chilly Gonzales’ Uber Alles, whilst Kan Daisuke’s “Xi-Huan8” brims with undulating melodies and carthorse percussion, all rolled up into a pithy acoustic-pop ball. When things don’t go quite to plan it’s either a victim of contrived esotericism (see Toog’s “Ugly Duckling”) or the fact that when up against bejeweled neighbours you have to shine with enhanced lambency just to be seen (Takeo Toyama’s otherwise gorgeous “Der Meteor”). Yet these are only minor quibbles and on any other compilation their perpetrators would likely constitute highlights.
Closing on the string lashed “Welst Am Draht” from März (think Múm meets Telefon Tel Aviv), Kalk Seeds is a must for anyone with faith in the concept of the record label as more than a stressed boardroom pensively ruminating their latest signing’s marketing potential. Bristling with leftfield highlights and in possession of a welter of musical styles, Karaoke Kalk may just be ushering in an epiphany on the lexically shunned ‘eclectic.’ Or then again, maybe not…
Reviewed by: Adam Park
Reviewed on: 2005-07-20