By 1998, Karate had done just about everything the average 20-something with a Punk Planet subscription could want. They put out a couple split 7” records with some pals, issued full-lengths through the venerable Southern Records, crammed into a Ford Econoline for a handful of tours, and shared the stage with Fugazi for a spell. Karate even booked their first European trek for the first quarter of 1998. And they’d spent more than four months of the previous year on the road, sharing dates with Kansas City’s Boy’s Life, Milwaukee’s The Promise Ring, Philadelphia’s Franklin, and Champaign, Illinois’s Braid, among a slew of other emerging bands wrestling post-hardcore into newfangled pop catharsis.
As more young punks clamored for croaked wobegon vocals and jittery bubblegum melodies bashed out with hardcore preservarance, Karate’s thoughts were elsewhere. “Operation: Sand” b/w “Empty There” tuned into alternative frequencies. On the B-side, the trio indulged in a slowness bordering on inertia. Every rippling bit of feedback and snatchet of stilted drumming or heavy-footed bass note provides the illusion that Karate were gathering intel on how to achieve nirvana from Dylan Carson’s seemingly endless drone with Earth. As with most of Karate’s oeuvre, it never was so simple; as soon as Karate lay out a calm bed of slowcore, Geoff Farina’s arch guitar tip-toes awake, calling forth Jeff Goddard’s nimble, swinging bass out of Gavin McCarthy’s steady drumming. “Empty There” quiets down and then bursts to life, all while avoiding the loud-quiet-loud pattern so many bands in their world clung to like a liferaft. “Operation: Sand” is similarly difficult to pin down; Farina’s hazy bluesy flourishes dance atop McCarthy’s severe, rile-em-up drum fills, and Goddard’s curlicue bass lines give the song a seductive shape and swing. Just as it sounds like they’re fully committed to a mood that evokes a Spanish guitar rhapsody, Karate dive right into a thicket of riffing familiar to anyone whose tight band shirts got pit-stained after an all-ages matinee at their local VFW Hall. Karate could confound and wallop three minutes at a time, and like their previous work, “Operation: Sand” b/w “Empty There” set the band apart from the punk pack while simultaneously proving the community could produce exceptionally vital art.
- Karate Operation: Sandstorm
- Karate Empty There