In 1985 Djam Karet released an album called No Commercial Potential. Thirteen years later they released an album called Still No Commercial Potential.
They produced challenging, blistering, atmospheric instrumental music in outlandish time signatures – and they positively gloried in it. They told “commercial potential” to go stick its head up its fundamental orifice – and did it with impressive musical chops. They were Floydian in their use of washy synth sounds, Crimsonesque in their aggressive guitar attacks, Ozric Tentacle-ish in their ambient grooves and Jeff Beck-like with their tough, dramatic solos. Listen to Night of the Mexican Goat Sucker on 1997’s The Devouring, which pretty much showcases most of the many sides of this wondrous band. In fact, listen to the entire album. That’s an order.
So we come to Sonic Celluloid, the 18th full-length album release from Djam Karet (Pronunciation tip: Try saying ‘Jim Carrey’ after a visit to the dentist). In their PR bumf the band say they have attempted to produce cinematic music that creates mini-movies in your mind. So we have 10 tracks of laid-back, sometimes dreamy, soundscapes, most of them barely breaking the five minute mark.
Saul Says So is keyboard-heavy with a gentle, sequenced rhythm and occasional tasteful guitar interventions. The introduction reminds me of Cary Grant standing in the middle of nowhere in North By Northwest before he’s attacked by a crop-spraying plane. Then it turns into a car journey, probably with the hero trapped in the boot. Think Diamonds Are Forever, when the baddies take the unconscious Bond and put him, inexplicably, into a sewer pipe.
Forced Perspective is darker, prowlier, funkier. It’s a 1980s buddy cop action thriller – Lethal Weapon 27, as Murtaugh and Riggs, tooled up with an unfeasibly large number of weapons, edge round the corner of a darkened building towards a final gun battle with the baddies.
Long Shot is a dark, ambient wash with Ozric-like bubbly bits swirling through. It’s the sniper setting up his long-range rifle at an open window in the tower block overlooking the busy shopping plaza – fitting together the stock, the barrel and the magnifying tube thing. Then it’s the hero racing against time to stop him shooting the dedicated, idealistic female lawyer.
In No Narration Needed a keyboard solo simulates a mournful trumpet. It’s the loner, unconventional cop who’s despised by his department. But now we have a spacey sequence, so it’s a loner cop…in space. But then it gets a bit eastern, then a bit western and, well, I’m lost now and so is the loner cop, who’s quit to become a traffic warden.
Numerous Mechanical Circles is a slow pan through a mysterious clockmaker’s workshop. Oceanside Exterior is, well, an ocean exterior with seasidey sound effects.
And I hope you are getting the picture now. Every track pretty much starts in the same dark, downbeat fashion, picks up a little in the middle, then drifts off at the end. They all occupy that same moody cinematic territory. There’s nothing here that would evoke images of, say, a song and dance sequence involving talking teacups or forgetful comedy fish, let alone the punch-up in a guitar and Mellotron factory that used to be Djam Karet’s stock-in-trade.
If this were a release by a new band one might admire its ambition, its musical confidence, its ability to create a mood of mournful uncertainty and suspense and its sparse, tasteful guitar work. But this is Djam Karet, whose music used to make my wife feel physically sick.
Sonic Celluloid reminds me of those albums of non-copyright mood music that one could use to soundtrack home movies without being stung for royalties. It is nice, pleasant, inoffensive background stuff that could well interest an open-minded film producer – perhaps that’s the plan because, as every musician knows, the real money is in getting your music into a movie.
It may even, God forbid, have commercial potential. And that’s a sad thing to have to say about Djam Karet.
01. Sonic Celluloid (6:07)
02. Forced Perspective (4:29)
03. Long Shot (4:13)
04. No Narration Needed (5:53)
05. Numerous Mechanical Circles (4:02)
06. Oceanside Exterior (4:31)
07. Au Revoir Au Reve (4:16)
08. Flashback (3:40)
09. Lower (2:58)
10. The Denouement Device (4:40)
Total Time – 44:49
Gayle Ellett – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Greek Bouzouki, Moog, Mellotron, Hammond & Rhodes
Chuck Oken Jr. – Drums, Analog & Digital Keyboard Sequencing and Soundscapes
Henry J. Osborne – Bass (tracks 1,2,3,4,7 & 10)
Mike Henderson – Guitar Feedback (tracks 4 & 9)
Mike Murray – Guitar Atmospheres (tracks 7 & 9), Piano (track 9)
Aaron Kenyon – Bass Effects (track 9)
Record Label: HC Productions
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 27th January 2017