Karaoke Kalk is one of the most distinctly individual labels I have ever encountered. The music under their umbrella represents a broad and eclectic variety of some of the strangest sounds in pop music today. Although ostensibly an electronic label, Karaoke Kalk is dedicated to the notion that genres are icky things which must be crushed under the shoes of right-thinking people. Of course, when dealing with anything this aggressively variegated, results can be slightly mixed.
The compilation begins with “Saving Juno” by Roman, a strange bit of electronic pop built on the back of glitchy synthesizer and funk guitar. Oddly for this disc, it’s something you might actually expect to hear on the radio (well, European radio). Roman seems to exist in a realm between Jamiriquoi and Robbie Williams, even if his music is Digital Hardcore by way of the Rat Pack. Hausmeister’s “Pumer” is lo-fi electronic music built out of what seem to be anachronistic drum and synth samples — it strikes me as something that Hello Kitty might listen to while having Hello Intercourse.
Sora & Wechsel Garland’s “Spring” is a melancholic collaboration between banjo and sampler, with the sampler summoning a wide array of glitchy, Herbert-esque rhythmical devices to create a strange emotional affect. Hauschka’s “Two Stones” is a piano piece accompanied by Jack-In-the-Box and cello. It reminds me of the acoustic interludes on Aphex Twin’s Druqks, with all the surreal connotations such a comparison might imply. Takagi Masakatsu’s “Mio Pianto” is an acoustic ballad sung in Japanese. It reminds me of something you might have heard on AM radio thirty years ago… if you lived in Japan, that is.
Kandis’ “Letter” is a glitchy minimalist dub exercise that could easily be Pole — the resemblance is so strong Pole could sue. “Director’s Cut” comes to us courtesy of Le Rok, and like Hausmeister’s “Pumer” seems to have been at least partially constructed from dated samples. However, there is an intricacy to the design, slightly reminiscent of something you might find on Warp Records, which belies the dated sound. “Ugly Ducklings” by Toog is a spoken-word piece set to the backing of multiple accordions with minimal drum machine and keyboard support around the edges.
Pascal Schäfer’s “Tic Tic” reminds me once again of Aphex Twin, albeit a more domesticated version of the pastoral Aphex Twin of I Care Because You Do, with splattering beats offset by cheesy organ chords. Donna Regina’s “Slow Killer” is actually pretty stunning — it begins with a simple ominous guitar chord repeated, is joined by a cacophonous off-kilter breakbeat and a whispered female voice and continues on this strange vibe for four minutes. It shouldn’t work, with a multitude of conflicting and bizarre elements in competition, but somehow it does, and succeeds in transcending its disparate origins to become something majestic.
Kuchen meets Mapstation bring us “Kmm”, a brief ditty (one-and-a-half minutes long!), that juxtaposes plucked guitar notes against a haiku about traveling. Takeo Toyama’s “Der Meteor” is a 100% analog composition, a duet between piano and cello (with a xylophone thrown in for good measure). It is quite accomplished and affecting, even if it sticks out like a sore thumb (of course, by that token, nothing fits on this crazy quilt of an anthology). Leichtmetall present “Wir Sind Blumen”, a German pop song featuring a samba beat, tuba and French horn. Of course, it’s sung in German.
Kan Daisuke’s “Xi-Huan” is another acoustic guitar track sung in Japanese. It’s really upbeat and cheery, which is odd because for all I know she could be singing about dead babies — slightly unsettling. “Suevian Rhapsody” is brought to us Poto&Cabengo, and it is quite possibly the weirdest tune on here. Which is saying something. Fifteen tracks in and I’m almost inured to weirdness, but the loping blue’s guitar and strange movie samples (featuring a scratchy-voiced old woman saying something or another) adds up to an odd experience. The disc finishes with “Welt Am Draht” by März, a pretty bit of instrumental pop inspired by Pet Sounds or Soft Bulletin, with sweeping synthesizers and a gentle xylophone. It’s a relaxing piece that ends this peripatetic disc on a relatively easy note.
Having listened to this odd disc in one sitting and recorded my reactions pretty much as they occurred to me, I am impressed with the incredible, some might say foolhardy range of music herein. Honestly, this is probably the most wide-ranging label comp I’ve ever encountered. None of it really has anything to do with the rest, but I guess that makes a strange kind of sense. This could have been compiled by a lunatic and a dartboard, culling from a pile of the oddest demo tapes in the Matador Records mailroom. Now, in a world of such stilted and commoditized sameness, I can’t say it isn’t refreshing to encounter something as wonderfully spontaneous as Karaoke Kalk. But the actual experience of listening to this broad range of music in one sitting is slightly traumatic. There’s bound to be something on here for most tastes, but the chances of you digging everything are small. But I guess it’s better to please all of the people some of the time — I’m OK with that.