K. (or “k.” as it is printed on the disc) is Karla Schickele, formerly of Ida and Beekeeper. On her new solo album New Problems, k. has created some of the most surreal and beautiful music I’ve heard all year. At first listen, I wasn’t too sure what to think of Schickele’s music, only that there was definitely something about it that was keeping me riveted to my headphones. Then I finally realized what it was. Karla’s music here reminds me quite a bit of early Liz Phair. Not only Liz, but also Suzanne Vega at her best, or even indie favorites Tsunami.
New Problems is the rare album that works because it merely exists. By that, I mean that Schikele has no delusions of yesterday’s grandeur. She’s not reaching back into the distant past to find a canvas to apply her music upon. Even though k. reminds me of Liz mainly due to her voice, her music is in that realm of strict originality that you begin to think that Schickele has created her very own form of sound and expression. All I know is that New Problems is spooky, sexy, and an album that I urge you to pick up the next time you are thinking about purchasing some music.
Really, though, I wish I knew just where to start on this one, as every track here has a brilliant quality of its own. No two tracks here are quite alike, and I think that’s what I like best about the disc. Personally, my favorite song on here is “Telegram”, written by Sylvia Plath with Karla’s solemn music supplying the backdrop. Schikele sings “Telegram says that you have gone away / And left our bankrupt circus on its own / There is nothing more to say / Clever wooly dogs have had their day / Shoot the dice for one remaining bowl” as odd bits of sped up backwards guitar and bits of dialogue run in and out of the mix. It’s the most haunting track on New Problems, kind of like a soundtrack to a dream where everything is turned upside down.
I also love the strange “Always So Good”, which features Karla by herself on bass and vocals. Again, the lyrics are almost dream-like, and indeed they even mention a dream. “A strange dream, a valentine / Or a life raft at the edge of the ocean / It’s always so good, but it’s never the same”, whispers Schickele as her bass and guitar tie knots into each other, both playing riffs that seem unrelated yet still converge to create such moving tones. Yet Karla is also very adept at creating striking words that are rooted in the everyday realities of the mundane. She turns the doldrums into fascinating pictures of someone else’s lives with lines like “I don’t know if I could walk away / You’d see me pull my boots on” and “It was there from the start / It was in the first kiss / Dark in your heart / Like a flask of your hip” (“Hip Flask”).
Musically, k. plays things quiet, with her guitar or piano supplying much of the music. And while her overall style is somewhat somber, the songs never turn into rote exercises of twee tear shedding. The songs here are distinctly moving, made more so by the appearances of Sue Havens on clarinet on “Play by the Book”, and Rose Thompson on thumb piano and vocals on “Got a Feelin’”, which in itself breaks off from the rest of the alum by conjuring up a sweet pop melody that doesn’t like to go away.
To say that I love New Problems would be an understatement. I’m not quite sure what the words are that would correctly express what I feel every time I listen to it. I do love it, but it goes further than that. It’s simply one of those albums that I think can speak all sorts of personal things to whomever might listen to it. All I know is that it truly is a wonderful disc, and Karla Schickele is someone to certainly watch for in the future. New Problems certainly deserves a spot on a “best of” list this year.