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Zebra

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Album Review

Funk pioneer George Clinton may have coined the term "cosmic slop," but Karl Blau has taken the idea and run with it across international borders. For his third K Records release, he twists '60s psychedelia and explorative jazz into his always sloppy brand of freak-folk. Of course, as it is, it's hardly fair to consider Blau a freak-folk artist anymore. On Zebra, his attempt at making music with an African slant, he maintains his loose slacker ways, while adding a flurry of musical ideas to his minimalist palette. All of these colors bleed together to make a mellow brown, full of varying elements: jazz (modal piano tinkering, bass grooves, and flutes), folk (harmonica and throaty singing), and indie (tinny guitar and dry drumbeats that often lose sight of their tempos.) As it is, there's less of an African feel than on, say, a BLK JKS or Vampire Weekend record, but there's a slight presence. One borrowed African-based technique that's new for Blau is his use of the slow build, with most songs centering 'round a particular instrument (usually his bass) and then filling up and broadening over time. "Dark Sedan Returns" gets into a sultry disco groove with Casio trills and baritone sax hits, "Crucial Contact" is so loose that it threatens to unravel completely before a beat gives it a sturdy anchor, and the guitar echoes and spaced-out keyboards transform "Goodbye Little Song" from a cute lullabye to a tripped-out dub experiment. Even with all the incorporated styles, all of the songs fit the same mellow mold; a rich, thick, peanut buttery vibe. The disc's highlights: "Apology to the Pollinateurs" reaches a climax when Melanie Valera's sweet French voice cuddles up against the shrill buzz of Kevin Noonan's snake-charming woodwind, while the simple piano intro of "All Over the Town" gives no indication that it will open up later into a gorgeous, bittersweet wash of zigzagging flute and harmonica swells. Sonically, Zebra is not a huge departure from the murky, organic nature of Nature's Got Away — after all, it was recorded in the concrete confines of Dub Narcotic Studio as well — but Zebra stands as firm proof that Blau's pushing himself to grow with each release.

Biography

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Working out of the small town of Anacortes in northern Washington state, Karl Blau has released several cassettes, as well as a CD, Shell Collection, on the small Knw-Yr-Own label. Shell Collection, from 1997, is comprised of four-track recordings that are among the more intriguing and versatile sounds to have come out of the lo-fi indie underground. With a vibe that is both down-home and whimsical, Blau grafts parts of winsome folk-rock onto lazy jamming blues, vintage rocksteady reggae, high '70s...
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Zebra, Karl Blau
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