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Los Angeles-residing musician Chris Karman records under the moniker Historian, an experimental post-rock/orchestral/folk project between Karman and other creatives. Last year the singer-songwriter collaborated with Quartetto Fantastico (Father John Misty, Flying Lotus) who added alternative string arrangements to the space rock album Expanse.
This month brought the release of the distinctive Distant Wells, Karman’s even more exploratory album that delivers sonic widescreen views of new musical hybrids. At turns, brooding and hopeful, and always reflective, the new LP contrasts post-rock expansiveness and rhythms with more sedate and mournful stringed instrument arrangements, again via Quarteto Fantastico.
Restlessly changeable post-rock co-exists and contrasts (and sometimes collides) with layered orchestral sounds and alt-pop melodics. Karman’s hazy reflections are delivered in a soft light, but bittersweet tone. The rich mix of different genres and dynamics is quite complex at times, but ear-catching in a fascinating way.
On stirring opener “Everything” Karman has, “…lost it all…”, which trembles with extended saxophone haze, but brightens with deftly pulled strings – and the addition of a plethora of other instrumentation.
Tristful and subdued “Giving It Up” features a downcast Karman slowly drawing out bleak lyrics about experiencing “a suffocating feeling” while in a relationship. The stripped back composition employs ruminative, low-register strings and a shuffling drum beat.
Plaintive trumpets herald Karman’s pessimistic news that, “I have emptied myself” on the track “Empty Tunnel”. After Karman’s stark declaration, the atmosphere becomes dreamier, filled airy vocals and plush instrumental accompaniment. The sentiments, however, are still dispirited, as Karman regretfully admits, “It just doesn’t register with you at all.”
The title track hovers under lowering clouds of super-extended organ notes, spacey synths diffusion, and plump-pressed brass emanations that become dissonant and approach cacophony. A storm is brewing and it breaks out into an ominous swirl by the end of the song.
Acoustic folk guitar strum and classical strings frisson mark lead single “Familiar Bell”, while second single “Away” travels similar folk/orchestral territory as Karman wrestles with “our irrelevance” and transience. He states, “I’ll make my mark.”, but the question arises of how long that will last. It’s answered by one of Karman’s final lines: until we, “…rearrange our history / until we’re obsolete.”
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