Review Summary: Smooth, intelligent rock that just makes you feel cool. Like Miles Davis cool.
There’s a reason why Karate often gets associated with emo. It’s not the music – there’s no tortured screams or abrasive distortion to be found here. Instead Karate play a quietly technical brand of indie rock with a definite jazzy swing. Why then this association? It comes from Geoff Farina and the emotion and feeling he puts into his songwriting. His melancholic ruminations on life, the longing and frustration, are upfront and affecting in a way that hits with the strength of the best of 90’s emo, if only a little more quietly.
Geoff Farina started Karate back in 1993. Their first two albums were more straightforward rock with an emo bent, with a less prominent jazz influence. Later on in the early 2000’s Karate’s music was a little more experimental, focusing more on longer instrumentals and even a bit of a post-rock sound. While they pulled of both of these styles nicely, it’s their final studio album that ends up being the best. On Pockets
they combine both their indie rock roots and their later jazz leanings, with an abundance of hooks and emotion.
“With Age” is as strong an opener as you could hope to find, light percussion and guitar skittering over a fluid bass line. Farina describes meeting an old lover on the street, “hanging out was almost the same/only without all the doubt, without all the pain
”. It’s a strikingly bittersweet song, highlighted by lively guitar solos between verses. The next track “Water” is possibly the best song on the album. The somber mood it evokes of aimless walks on November nights is exquisite, Farina singing “i want to take you to dinner/but you’d rather hang out at rest stops/engaging in discourse better scratched into desktop
”. The more upbeat songs are great also, like the raucous guitar solos and bouncing bass in “Tow Truck”, which go well with the singer’s rather humorous encounter with an opinionated truck driver.
Aside from the lyrics, the playing on display here is well above average. Both the drummer Gavin McCarthy and the bassist Jeff Goddard are talented musicians, and they both manage to be inventive in their playing without becoming overbearing. The production is top notch as well. Many of the best emo albums were mixed in a way that retained the messy abrasiveness of a live performance, and there’s a similar thing going on with Pockets
. Here the production is very warm and direct, which helps make the songs feel even more personal.
Granted, the album is a bit of a grower. It took me several listens for the finer aspects of the songs to sink in, but there’s an undeniable kind of vibe to this album that will keep you coming back for more. While emo is fitting for when you’re pissed off or depressed, Farina’s themes are less extreme, but no less powerful. His songs deal with the everyday kind issues – boredom and apathy, car trouble, spending your day off watching the same old bull*** on television. His wry comment “how can preparation for the week /take the entire weekend
” takes all the fun out of working for the weekend. Loverboy you were wrong.