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Karda Estra - Time And Stars CD (album) cover


Karda Estra

Symphonic Prog

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4 stars The music of Karda Estra, the brainchild of composer Richard Wileman, has a unique aesthetic; Dark, gloomy, shadowy and gothic, it is nevertheless also pretty at times, rich in texture and detail, and full of filmic atmosphere.

The new album, "Time and Stars", is slightly unusual for the group as it includes some "songs", and when I say songs I mean instrumental pieces with sung text. That said, the timbral and harmonic approach taken on the album is entirely in keeping with the rest of their impressive and darkly entertaining canon of work and the 'vocals with text' are merely a successful new component, adding to the customary sumptuous textures of acoustic guitars, electric pianos and mallet instruments, unusual uncanny atmospheres/chord progressions, lyrical woodwind passages and spellbinding choral passages.

A longing sadness and sense of foreboding pervades tracks such as the evocative "Lighthouse" and "Andromeda Approaches", the latter's lead vocal and shimmering acoustic/12 string guitar texture sharing something with Steve Hackett's "Shadow of the Heirophant" from his classic "Voyage of the Acolyte" album. (Steve Hackett is, I know, an artist with whom Richard feels a strong affinity).

Elsewhere across the album one hears atonal figures flung like constellations into arrangements with complex tonal harmonic palettes and moments of sinister 'chain-rattling' and crunching earth interspersed with periods of uneasy repose.

"Time and Stars", as with much of the group's work, is hard to classify as 'rock' as there is so little 'rocking out'. Rhythmically, harmonically and melodically more refined than most "Prog" there are only a few drums and heavy electric guitar moments here ? the track "Niall" being an isolated example. In fact to me this music perhaps has more in common with the psychedelic '60's soundtrack worlds of David Axelrod, Ennio Morricone or even the Swedish composer Bo Hansson than it does with say Yes or King Crimson, though in its acoustic moments there is more than a hint of Hackett-era Genesis. On this album I also thought I discerned chord sequences that reminded me of the music of the brilliant French band Magma ? I'd be delighted to find out if there was a connection or influence or if that was just mere coincidence.

All said, it is really difficult to find precedents or clear influences for the band's truly creative music which really does stand alone (across all their albums) as a very singular and very accomplished musical vision. Whilst possibly too 'low-key' for some listener,s the work is composed and produced with supreme musicality, distinctiveness, detail and care.

This album is the latest in a prolific series of impressive musical achievements.

Report this review (#1585729)
Posted Thursday, July 7, 2016 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars This 2016 album is actually a bringing together of the two 2015 EPs 'The Seas & The Stars' and 'Future Sounds'. So, if you have both then you have no real need to get this, but of course if you haven't then this is an easy way to get them both on a single CD! The first six songs are from the first EP, which according to Richard "chronicles the collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way, the eventual end of everything, a celestial intervention and a return to where everything began - viewed from an impossible, empty shoreline." I couldn't have put it better myself. Here, Richard provides acoustic, electric, classical, prepared and bass guitars, keyboards, melodica, accordion, kalimba, Appalachian dulcimer, rastrophone, bouzouki, glockenspiel, percussion, while Ileesha gives us some of her stunning vocals, and Amy Fry assist with clarinet, alto saxophone and flute. I have found this one of Richard's more difficult releases to write about, as each time I try to write about it I find myself spending way too much time listening to it and not enough time capturing any words! Having the words above saying what this EP is about is a great help, as on this release, as with much of KE's output, this is incredibly visual, and I find myself playing a film in my head while listening to this. One unusual aspect is that Ileesha sings some words, whereas normally her vocals are wordless and eerie, but they fit with the very science fiction feel of the whole piece. This may only be some twenty minutes long, but within the layers and depths the majesty and hypnotic style takes the listener to a far different place.

The second half of the CD is the 'Future Sounds' EP, and here Ileesha features with her wonderful haunting vocals on one number, clarinetist Amy Fry appears on two and drummer Paul Sears on another, but for the most part this is just Richard and whatever instrument he believes is right for the moment. I have long said that Richard is one of our greatest modern classical composers, with more than a hint of film music about what he does, and this is even more cinematic than normal. There is an incredible amount of space within the music, and a haunting ethereal edge that reminds me a lot of some of Roger Eno's work. It is deeply compelling, and is a world where the dominant instrument is a slightly phased poignant electric guitar that is both beautiful and disturbing at the same time. As always with Karda Estra, this is music that really does benefit from being played on headphones: it is important to pay full attention to what is being played, as only then will the listener fully understand the complex yet simplistic world. I can imagine being lost in space, wondering at the majesty of the stars, with this being played as the backdrop, Cinematic, enthralling, beguiling, beautiful Karda Estra.

I gave both EP's top ratings when I reviewed them independently before, so how can I do anything different when reviewing them together? Richard consistently produces some of the most important music coming out of the UK, and I urge anyone who hasn't heard Karda Estra yet to seek them out immediately if not sooner.

Report this review (#1709208)
Posted Saturday, April 8, 2017 | Review Permalink

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