Karate emerged as part of an independent rock community that existed outside of the established routines of music established by corporate interests. It was a world apart, with its own language, touring circuit, and media ecosystem. Within that ecosystem, with all its clashing sounds and rigid rules on what notes to play and things to imbibe and labels to work with or ignore, Karate were a band distinct, made more so with each subsequent album plied with twisting guitars, sparse yet complicated rhythms, and elusive melodies that nevertheless managed to spellbind. They entered the 2000s new millennium with four LPs and a cache of seven-inches, a rich document of a band whose evolution sounded constantly in flux from the gnarliest notes of their lo-fi basement demo to the quiet incandescence of their slowcore jazz breaks of the present. They made albums that felt like worlds unto themselves, the minutes immersive and the space between notes porous enough to suggest that those set-in-stone recordings could change with the right mood lighting and stereo system. Karate evoked that sensibility on both songs that make up their 2002 EP, “Cancel” b/w “Sing.”
Both songs are surveys of Karate’s musical progression played out in enough stylistic transitions to fill out an album. They’re opuses, too, not just for their length—the languid “Cancel” clocking in at just a little past 11 minutes, the grandiose “Sing” just a hair under 15 minutes—but for the trio’s exacting precision with every dynamic subtlety, which they pull off with an edge-of-your-seat thrall that suggests the next note may surprise everyone involved. “Cancel” spotlights the band’s preeminent grasp of hushed cadences, as Karate ratchets the intensity of the song’s serene mood at an almost imperceptible clip; the shift makes slowcore singles feel breakneck, and the noisy denouement ties together the band’s jazz proclivities with its post-hardcore beginnings. The epic “Sing” picks up on the cacophonous closing of its preceding track as Karate spins the seemingly shapeless material into a discombobulating jam before snapping into shape with a magnetic melody, the beginning of several major shifts that resemble chapters in a novel as much as they do movements in a song. A syncopated rhythm pumps up a tense guitar riff, which dips down into an unhurried passage animated by an elastic, humid guitar solo that betrays hints of possible paths ahead. An enthralling closer, “Sing” exudes a boundless sense of energy of a band that’s just starting and has everything in the right place. Then again, Karate always played with a purposefulness that could make an ardent fan feel renewed.
- Karate Cancel
- Karate Sing