The worst thing that could happen to a scribe is to run out of coffee. Or write about their favourite artist. The two things combined are directly responsible for this review, and although I won’t apologise for the possibly flawed discourse that follows this brief introduction, I need to make it clear from the very beginning: if you’re after a rant about how pretentious Farina’s Karate have been, or how melodramatically his solo career has been developing in the last two decades, keep looking. Few songwriters can sport a catalogue that spans everything from the all too forgotten recesses of emo-core to fusion, Italian folk to slow-core. Geoff Farina’s importance is, in brief, inescapable if one wants to portray the indie scene from the mid 1990s to this day.
Exit Verse continues in this tradition by presenting itself as a group effort, with John Dugan (Chisel, Edsel) and bassist Pete Croke (Brokeback, Tight Phantoms), and their roots well planted in the muddy waters of American musical convention, speaks of European punk (“Perfect Hair”) and contemporary blues. Yes, I hear you: Mix these ingredients in different quantities and you might get the essence of Karate’s origins. The raw, unpolished texture at the core of albums like their self-titled debut (1996) or the poetic quasi-maturity of In Place of Real Insight (1997) reverberates in the more conventional, typical arrangements behind this more contemporary effort.
This is simple music which balances the resort to the ordinary canons of rock with an effortless, elegant flow. One can’t help but being drawn in by the output, rather than the method, by the pure creative act, instead of the – however remarkable – artistic potency. The angularity of the rhythmic pattern is blunted by Farina’s vocals quite often (and this is already a notable feature in itself) in major tone. The songwriting, which is somewhere up there with the likes of Sebadoh and Pavement, to name but two masters of composition, is sustained by a minimalistic structure voided of the choking clasp of mannerism.
“Chrome”, “Perfect Hair”, or “The Sparrow” – the latter sang in collaboration with legendary guitarist Thalia Zedek (Come, Live Skull) – are probably the highlights of one of the most genuine debuts of the year. Exit Verse do not reinvent the wheel and don’t even try to fool the listener by means of dramatic (there are no ballads, here!) or emotional subterfuges: this is pure artistry to be enjoyed at full volume on an open road. This is evolution filtered by tradition without the tiredness of middle-aged rock ‘n’ roll. One day, in a Roman shanty town squat, me and my friend brought bottles of sparkling white wine to Karate. Farina, exhausted more by the prospect of having to drive 400 miles than by his band’s gig itself, thanked us with a smile. He paused, then told us: “I’ve heard this is the drink of choice of Italian punk rockers.” True. Or maybe not, who cares. His music is like that wine: you enjoy the aroma, but it is the aftertaste that you don’t forget. And it does get better with time, believe it or not.