The Devouring (1997, 71.13) ****/TT
|Night of the Mexican Goat Sucker
Forbidden By Rule
Lost, But Not Forgotten
Lights Over Roswell
Myth of a White Jesus
The River of No Return
The Indian Problem
|The Pinzler Method
Old Soldiers' Disease
New Dark Age (2001, 55.38) ****/T
|No Man's Land
Eclipse of Faith
Web of Medea
Alone With the River Man
Recollection Harvest/Indian Summer (2005, 71.31) ****½/TTT
|The March to the Sea of Tranquility
The Packing House
The Gypsy and the Hegemon
The Great Plains of North Dakota
Twilight in Ice Canyon
The Heavy Soul Sessions (2010, 64.36) ****½/TTTHungry Ghost
The Red Threaded Sexy Beast
Consider Figure Three
The Packing House
Dedicated to K.C.
The Gypsy and the Hegemon
The Trip (2013, 47.02) ***½/TThe Trip
Regenerator 3017 (2014, 41.01) ***½/TT½Prince of the Inland Empire
Living in the Future Past
On the Edge of the Moon
Swamp of Dreams (2015, recorded 1990-2006, 44.13) ***½/½Voodoo Chases the Muse
The Shattering Sky
New Light on the Dark Age
Inventions of the Monsters
Swamp of Dreams
Sonic Celluloid (2017, 44.49) ***½/TTT
|Saul Says So
No Narration Needed
Numerous Mechanical Circles
Au Revoir au Rêve
The Denouement Device
Djam Karet (pron. 'Jam Carray'), from California, formed at the beginning of the sterile '80s and immediately made their mark on a depressed progressive scene with their dynamic, forward-looking and inventive music. 1989's Reflections From the Firepool (****) was an early classic, while Suspension & Displacement (***½) ploughed a different furrow altogether, and Burning the Hard City (****) heads off at another tangent. All of which adds up to that rare thing (ironically, particularly within prog), an original, talented band with something new to say. I've never actually seen any pictures of the band's faces, although I'm sure plenty exist; they seem to prefer their witty take on anonymity (see below). There also seems to be some confusion as to the gender of guitarist Gayle Ellett, with a moronic 'writer' for UK mag Record Collector (who shall remain nameless, although his initials are T.J.) making idiotic sexist remarks about... a man. Dork.
As the band's career progressed, Ellett in particular began to take on more keyboard duties, often favouring analogue over digital, although the band refuse to allow themselves to become hidebound in this area (or any other as far as I can ascertain), playing whatever instruments are required by the piece in question. Never the most prolific outfit, The Devouring was only their third release of the '90s, and the first to feature Ellett on Mellotron, among many other devices acoustic, electric, analogue and digital. The album consists of ten lengthy compositions, all instrumental (did I mention the band are entirely instrumental?), full of involved guitar interplay, unusual instrumental juxtapositions and a healthy dose of real tunes (remember them?). It's difficult to pick out highlights on a first listen, although Forbidden By Rule is notable, and guest violinist Judy Garf on the no doubt ironic Lights Over Roswell certainly makes her mark. Ellett restricts his (borrowed) Mellotron use to three tracks, although at least one other has an orchestral string pad that may just possibly have some 'Tron thrown into the mix. Forbidden By Rule and Lost, But Not Forgotten have fairly typical string parts, particularly strong on the latter, while closer Old Soldiers' Disease goes for strings, choir and flutes, mostly layered onto one short section of the piece.
Four years on, New Dark Age is generally more laid-back than its predecessor, although the compositional standard seems to be as high. As with much instrumental music, of course, there are fewer 'handles' for the listener, so consequently, an album may have to be played a greater number of times for the music to sink in, which adds up to: I'll be able to give this a better review when I've played it a few more times. Less of Ellett's 'Tron work this time round (the 'Tron, incidentally, being lent by Syn-Phonic's Greg Walker, who I believe bought it from Arthur Brown's one-time keyboard player Victor Peraino), so apart from a string line which is more likely to be a combination of samples and analogue strings, all I can hear is string and choir parts on Going Home.
After a couple of intermediate releases, 2005 brought the sprawling Recollection Harvest/Indian Summer, actually two albums in one, the first five tracks comprising Recollection Harvest and the remainder Indian Summer. There are distinct differences between the two halves; Recollection Harvest is more 'traditionally' DK, while Indian Summer has a more 'ethnic' bent and, while utilising percussion, is less rhythmic. In many ways, the first half is a typical Djam Karet album, although they've refined their sound yet further from their previous work; The Gypsy And The Hegemon is quite brilliant, and at no point does the intensity of the (naturally all-instrumental) affair slacken, while the second part is gentler, but no less effective. The album opens with a blast of Ellett's 'Tron strings (their own machine, at last; Aaron Kenyon also plays this time round) on The March To The Sea Of Tranquility, with cellos at the end of the track, while a calliope-esque flute part opens The Gypsy And The Hegemon and clusters of brass and choir chords appears halfway through Recollection Harvest itself. More choirs on Indian Summer, Dark Oranges and Requiem and strings on The Great Plains Of North Dakota; it's possible there are more parts, but given the album's generous use of analogue and digital synths, it's not always easy to tell.
A five-year wait ended with the release of 2010's The Heavy Soul Sessions, featuring the band playing pieces from their back-catalogue live in the studio, adding a version of Richard Pinhas' Dedicated To K.C. for good measure. I have to say, this is quite superb; DK have clearly cherry-picked some of their best material and play at the peak of their considerable abilities; interestingly, Ellett, one of the band's original guitarists, shifts completely over to keyboards here. This could almost be seen as a primer to the band's work, in some ways, with the bonus that they're playing better than ever. Ellett's Mellotron strings drop in and out of opener Hungry Ghost and The Red Threaded Sexy Beast (with a particularly upfront part around seven minutes in), chordal choir parts on The Packing House and Dedicated To K.C. and a repeat of the calliope-like flute part on Recollection Harvest/Indian Summer's The Gypsy And The Hegemon, as if the album needed improving.
Bravely, the band have gone for one 47-minute track on 2013's The Trip, apparently their first fully improvised release since their 1985 debut. Despite lacking any listed sub-sections, the piece is actually (loosely) split into four heavily unequal parts, the first finishing at around twelve minutes, the second at 28 and a last little section comes in around two minutes before the end. Most of the album is laid-back and yes, trippy, although they switch into an old-school hard rock boogie somewhere in the forties, while the little piece at the end is nearer folk than anything. Of course, any attempt to log the Mellotron use on the album is confounded by its single-track layout, although there really isn't an awful lot to be heard, anyway, with a few string notes a couple of minutes in, some background male choir around 37 minutes and a string line wandering around within the last minute or two.
The following year's Regenerator 3017 is a vastly more structured album than its predecessor, but then, as the band are wont to say, they like to vary it with every release. A noticeable influence this time round (albeit not on every track) is '70s cop movie soundtrack funk, opener Prince Of The Inland Empire kicking off like the bastard offspring of the theme from a lost pilot episode from something called Mulligan, perhaps, or somesuch similar Irish diaspora Noo Yawk detective cliché moniker. Personal favourites include Desert Varnish, the laid-back Lost Dreams and eight-minute closer On The Edge Of The Moon, but with no two tracks sounding really alike, there's something here for everyone. Well, everyone who likes jazzy instrumental progressive rock, anyway. Funnily enough, I'm also reminded, in places, of SFF, of all bands; well, they're both instrumental, both a bit fusiony... And both use Mellotrons! Speaking of which, it turns up on several tracks, with a flute line in opener Prince Of The Inland Empire, chordal strings on Living In The Future Past, flute and string lines on Wind Pillow, more flutes on Empty House and various background things (flutes, choirs, more?) in On The Edge Of The Moon.
2015's Swamp of Dreams is actually a compilation of otherwise-unavailable tracks, the first four from the early 2000s and the last two from 1990, noticeably stylistically different to the more recent material. Highlights? The Shattering Sky and the closing title track, perhaps surprisingly. Ellett's Mellotron turns up, if only just, with background strings on opener Voodoo Chases The Muse and The Shattering Sky (plus choirs?). 2017's Sonic Celluloid loses the funk, going more for an on/off sequencer-driven sound on about half the album. Top tracks? Opener Saul Says So, Numerous Mechanical Circles and the lush Au Revoir Au Rêve, maybe, but there's no dead wood here. Plenty of Mellotron, with deep, chordal strings and flutes on Saul Says So, background choirs and upfront strings on Long Shot, a flute melody, partly doubled on strings, on No Narration Needed, string and flute parts on Numerous Mechanical Circles, distant flutes in Oceanside Exterior, chordal strings on Flashback and more flutes and strings on closer The Denouement Device.
So; Djam Karet deserve your attention, although those looking for 'trad' prog may be disappointed; this is at least a million miles away from the horrors of generic prog-metal, but the band aren't afraid to use riffing guitars when the music requires them. I've now heard many of their albums, all different to each other and I can recommend all of them, which says something. As far as these three go, Recollection Harvest/Indian Summer and The Heavy Soul Sessions duke it out for the coveted 'best' nomination, while The Devouring is probably marginally better, and definitely more of a 'Tron album than New Dark Age, but for what it's worth, I'd say, buy 'em all anyway. By the way, a small mention for Djam Karet's cover art; when so many bands settle for a cheap'n'nasty effort that cost about a fiver to sling together, they obviously go out of their way to make an effort. It really isn't that difficult.
Djam Karet's 2003 album, A Night for Baku, doesn't actually credit the Mellotron and I've had it confirmed by the band that it's samples. It seems to be slightly more reflective than most of their work, particularly opener Dream Portal, which reminds one more of Pink Floyd than anything. As for the sampled 'Tron, it isn't overused, as usual with the band; strings on opening and closing tracks Dream Portal and The Red Thread, with rather unconvincing choirs on Hungry Ghost and Chimera Moon, particularly on the latter. So; another excellent album; are these guys incapable of playing badly?