Instrumental bands have always had a special place in my heart. Bands like Tortoise, Explosions In The Sky and Do Make Say Think work for a lot of reasons but are all the more impressive that they don't have a focal anchor like a vocal to keep your attention. They rely on variation and more often than not no singular instrument outshines the rest. If you haven't heard of Karate Mountain then you can add them to the list of bands that don't need a singer to be utterly enjoyable and full of emotional landscapes. There is a lot going with their ten-song album The Bravest Beetle. With bandleader Keith Penney at the helm they fuse together genres like free jazz, rock, ambient and they go places in between as well. The instrumentation is technically incredible but more importantly is creatively engaging.
The album opens with “If I say it’s Christmas then it”s Christmas,” which is a piano rock song that is upbeat and full of energy. It is actually one of the least adventurous songs amongst the bunch but delivers a good vibe that is easy to grasp on to. I thoroughly enjoyed the “Howard The Cowherd,” which contains excellent contrasting bass and piano lines and downright impressive percussive elements. Karate Mountain starts implementing technically proficient aspects that make you rewind the song and play it again. As much as I liked “Howard The Cowherd” the song “Karate” is the one that got me to be a true believer. They sound a bit like Tortoise on this song. The percussion is vital and the parts sound disparate in isolation but together they sound like something else altogether. If you want to be impressed skip to this song right away.
“Courage” is arguably the best track on the album. It’s a 10-minute epic that tips its hat to free jazz. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the accordion or the manic breakdown of instrumentation at the six-minute mark. Actually the most impressive part may be how they make the transition.
”Kitty Carlisle” was actually a song I could imagine vocals being implemented while “The Robin” is a slower song but effective. The warm horns, stand up bass and piano is on point in “Samuel Clemens on Horseback.” It’s a concoction of sound that resonates with nostalgia. They close with “Here’s Hoping,” which is a light number that has some haunting qualities not unlike that of Talk Talk.
Overall, there are very few lulls in this album and a number of songs that are good and a few that are exceptional. I was very impressed by this effort.
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