2017 04 April: My Sleeping Karma / Richard Barbieri

Review from The Obelisk:
Having proffered tonal sweetness and instrumental heavy psych groove since their self-titled debut made its way to the ears of an eager European scene in 2006 via Elektrohasch, the German four-piece My Sleeping Karma make a jump to Napalm Records for the release of their fourth album, the CD/2LP Soma. If one that’s going to bring them to the attention of a wider audience, it’s also a move for which they’re ready. Their last album, Tri (review here), was released in 2010 and found the band focusing on various aspects of Hindu theology, using the names of gods as themes running throughout the mostly instrumental tracks. With the prior Satya (review here) in 2008, it was Buddhism at the thematic fore.
Musically, they’ve remained consistent despite working through these varied conceptual influences – you could hear Seppi’s guitar tone on the debut and on the latest and recognize the same smoothness in it then as now, though what he’s playing is more developed – and Soma takes for its basis the Hindu drink of the gods that shares its name. Each of the 55-minute full-length’s six central, mostly extended (six minutes and up) tracks is named for an “ingredient” in the soma, and each is also companioned by a transitional interlude, making the album as a whole an 11-track CD, beginning with “Pachyclada” and ending with “Psilocybe,” as each pair of songs between is separated by and interlude. This would be, at worst, a disruption of Soma’s progression, were it not for the fluidity of the material itself. If My Sleeping Karma wanted to base their fourth album around a drink, they did right in choosing something liquid, as there’s no better descriptive basis for the songs themselves – they flow as a liquid would, to be clearer about it. Rather than distract from that process, the interludes add to it, bolstering an already rich atmosphere and adding instrumental complexity and ambient vibing to the ebbs and flows within the more expansive, dynamic tracks. On any level you could want to evaluate it, Soma is a triumph in how it accomplishes the task it sets for itself – tonally, atmospherically, engagingly. It crafts memorable parts serving a greater whole and to call it manna doesn’t seem inappropriate (however disparate the cultural basis might be for doing so might be) given My Sleeping Karma’s otherworldly psychedelic range.
Most of the elements at work musically on Soma will be familiar to those who’ve experienced My Sleeping Karma’s sweetly-honed jamming before. Their apparent methodology remains consistent despite the varying themes – they jam – in a variety of moods and vibes, perhaps, but they jam nonetheless. Songs like “Pachyclada,” “Ephedra” and “Eleusine Coracana” are not without their structures, their peaks and valleys, but they have a direction underlying their largely open-feeling development. At an even nine minutes, opener “Pachyclada” is the longest piece on Soma (immediate points tallied to whatever scope might be kept) and sets the tone for what follows with strong hits from drummer Steffen punctuating the prevalent bassline of Matte as Seppi’s guitar gradually swells to prominence.
One thing My Sleeping Karma has always done well is craft a chorus out of the instrumentation, and Seppi is quick to establish that of “Pachyclada” in a flicker of a lead that returns as a sort of mini-theme within the song itself, cycling through several times in the first half before a heavier tangent emerges in the second, still keeping to the same kind of idea, but turning it into a build that reaches a satisfying apex before calming and riding out, Norman’s keys adding proggy swirls and a sort of howling tonality to complement the guitar. From its very beginning, the song is rich and encompassing – on headphones its pull is even greater – and the rainy transition it makes into the first of the album’s five interludes is no less smooth than anything on “Pachyclada” itself. The interludes are a point of interest both sonically and conceptually, as they manage to be vastly different among themselves while also tying the material before and after them together. The one between “Pachyclada” and “Ephedra” is Seppi’s guitar alone, echoing layers of simple sweetness, but to contrast, the later interlude between “Saumya” and “Somalatha” is key-led, almost trip-hop in its construction, so there’s more at work there than just moving from one track to the next. With drums at the fore between “Ephedra” and “Eleusine Coracana” and Matte’s bass accompanying birdsong between “Eleusine Coracana” and “Saumya,” it’s as though each member of My Sleeping Karma was given an interlude of their own, finally culminating in the breathing-topped, beating-heart contemplative minimalism of the interlude between “Somalatha” and closer “Psilocybe.”

Planets + Persona, the 2017 studio album from Richard Barbieri, is the most sonically expansive work to date from the former Japan and Porcupine Tree keyboard maestro.

The album combines vintage analogue synthesisers with acoustic instrumentation, and incorporates Jazz elements, pitching Barbieri's unique sound designs against improvisations from a personally hand-picked group of guest musicians that includes Percy Jones, Luca Calabrese and Lisen Rylander Love.

As on Stranger Inside, manipulated voices (mainly courtesy of Rylander Love's real time experiments) are present.

Recorded across Europe in studios in London, Italy and Sweden, Barbieri's third album is without doubt his most ambitious solo release to date.

Highlighting the album's central theme of duality, the artwork on the 16 page booklet features photographic scenes of dramatic Icelandic landscapes.

CD in digipak. Mastered by Simon Heyworth.  

1. Solar Sea (7:30)
2. New Found Land (7:17)
3. Night Of The Hunter (10:44)
4. Interstellar Medium (5:38)
5. Unholy (8:58)
6. Shafts Of Light (6:39)
7. Solar Storm (6:22)

Richard Barbieri - Synthesisers, Fender Rhodes, Sampler, Electronic Percussion Programming, Sound design
with guest perfomers:

Lisen Rylander Love - Voices, Saxophone
Luca Calabrese - Trumpet
Kjell Severinsson - Drums
Klas Assarsson - Vibraphone
Christian Saggese - Acoustic Guitar
Grice Peters - Kora
Axel Crone - Bass
Percy Jones - Bass Guitar