Materia Culture

Some Polish dub-electronica for your enjoyment today from Karol Su/Ka. I feel less and less equipped to appraise this kind of material which is quite out of my line, but I often find with releases from Poland that there’s a quirky and lumpy aspect to the music which gives me a toehold, slippery though it be. Today’s offering is a double disc set (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 184-2). On the first, Escape From Warsaw presents Materia, 18 cuts of beat-based squelcherment showing various sides to this project of Karol’s – the key note is his “characteristic psychedelic style”, whatever that means in this context. I like the simplicity of the arrangements, though, which border on being primitive; none of that over-polished finish for him, and many rough edges and joins are showing. The voice elements are especially well-positioned, often amounting to not much more than a slightly surly, disaffected chant in a growly voice, half-sung and half-spoken. That’s apart from when he uses samples; the opening track samples extensively from a recorded speech of Greta Thunberg, the famous teenaged ecology and climate change activist. This is Karol’s way of giving us “food for thought”, as the press notes would have it. I thought this kind of thing (i.e. voices delivering a message on top of a disco beat) was old hat by now – I’m old enough to remember such clunkers as 19 by Paul Hardcastle, but that shows how little I know. I guess some techniques are part of the lingua franca by now. Materia soon exhausted me with its plenitude, density, and remorseless forward movement, but I expect younger listeners will benefit from it enormously.

Second disk of this set is credited to Santa Marta & Karol Su/Ka and is called Czas Snu. To some extent it’s a showcase for the poetry of Marta Olszewska, who wrote the words and recites same (in the Polish tongue of course) in her somewhat detached and stern-sounding voice. Our man Karol embellishes the words with his imaginative and slightly unusual electronic music backdrops; right away it’s clear even to such as I that he’s attempting something more experimental than he is with Escape From Warsaw, and although there are beats to be savoured, there are also plenty of strange, uncertain tones emanating from synths and other devices, evidently intended to invoke moods of profound ambiguity and uncertainty. He strives hard to match the drama and development of the stories told by Marta, although he doesn’t always quite succeed; frequently, he finds the best way to increase a sense of urgency is by adding an urgent drumbeat, and as a default way of generating excitement that technique wears thin pretty soon. On the other hand, there are some unpredictable dynamics and drop-outs going on in these odd suites, making it a rewarding listen overall. There’s also a tad more variety in the textures, surfaces, and sounds. From 2nd August 2019.

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