Karl Blau AM

[Whistler; 2008]

Styles: experimental pop
Others: Young Marble Giants, Marmoset, The Microphones

While you were holed up this winter doing nothing but waiting for warmer air, Karl Blau was keeping himself busy. And lucky for us, Mr. Blau -- a guy who lends his musical talents to D+, Mount Eerie, and Laura Veirs (as well as running a monthly mail-order record label, KELP!) -- seems to know a great deal about synergy: no other time but the vernal equinox would seem as fitting for the release of AM. Taking initial inspiration from author A. A. Milne's poetic works (which provide the lyrics for the bulk of AM; Blau and anonymous poets provide the rest), Blau and Phil Elverum set about crafting an album situated where night meets day -- where day awakens.

“Morning Prayer” places us moments before that junction, with Blau reciting a laundry list of affirmations: “Give me a joy and simple things/ Give me an eye for beauty/ A mind that reasons/ A sympathy that understands/ A true kindness/ A noble common sense/ At the close of this day.” Shortly afterward, a blast of electric fuzz washes over the track. The first rays of the sun make their impression felt, with Blau amidst hand percussion polyrhythms and sparse Rhodes piano. What follows is a decidedly confident string of, quite simply, some of the best experimental home-recorded pop you’re likely to hear for some time, with equal parts dub, VU fuzz, psychedelic folk and pop, and even some soul. The lush and perfect pop of “Spring Morning” (along with every track that draws from Milne) seems tailor-made for Blau as he roams through the postcard-worthy Pacific Northwest.

Indeed, the first half of AM is crammed with so many ideas, but as the day progresses to “Noah Richards' Sun,” Phil Elverum shows up and takes things over for a bit. The song serves as a divider for AM, providing a break from the idea-heavy first half; incidentally, it also ranks with the best of The Microphones’ past glories (think The Glow Pt. 2), setting off the type of headphone fireworks you’d likely lose an afternoon to. After another detour into instrumental perfection, AM gets back to the material of Milne, but now in a more sparse fashion, while the early Beach Boys homage “Growing Up” takes things into neighborhood creepster territory, with Blau moaning low over a sinister pop hook, “I’ve got shoes with grown up laces/ I’ve got knickers and a pair of braces/ I’m all ready to run some races/ Who’s coming out with me.”

When Blau ties it all together with album closer “In the Morning,” we find night on its way in through the door. It’s a fitting and winsome closing, and, save for the nocturnals, the party is over. Coming and going in just about 36 minutes, AM feels pretty short, and especially considering the dearth of great ideas during the first half of the record, Karl Blau may leave us feeling just a bit cheated. Then again, I’m sure he’s already working on something new right now.

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