Karl Blau Nature’s Got Away

[K; 2008]

Styles: lo-fi, fully realized pop played in a bedroom
Others: Grizzly Bear, Beck, Sebadoh

Anacortes, Washington is a pastoral place. Sitting on the lip of Puget Sound, the town is a gateway to the stately and beautiful San Juan Islands. It’s a place that seems to merge with nature -- its buildings dissolving into the forest, its roads sloping slowly toward the ocean. It’s also the home and recording site for Karl Blau whose recent LP Nature’s Got Away similarly describes the convergence of sound and emotion with nature.

With a discography that’s growing at Robert Pollard-like proportions, Nature’s Got Away is Blau’s second full-length offering of the year (not counting his Kelp! Lunacy fanzine releases). While not dramatically different from much of the output of his other ‘proper’ albums (again excluding the more experimental Kelp! releases), Nature presents a musician settling into his craft. The characteristic tape hiss found on nearly every Blau recording -- that left the otherwise beautifully played Beneath Waves LP feeling fidgety and under-realized -- has ceased its role as a byproduct of his recording techniques and has become a sonic device. Track one “Moved on From Dreams” makes this notion immediately apparent, as a croaking guitar emerges from dense tape static. From there, the album genre-hops within these lo-fi trappings, from bubblegum pop (“Before Telling Dragons” and “Stream of Ganders”), to guitar-rock (“Nothing in the Way”), to near-electronic calypso (“It’s the Stars”). However, the best moments occur when Blau and his collective of musicians -- which include members of LAKE and Sunn O))) -- take a gentler approach, allowing the music to meander slowly around his stoic, whimsical vocals.

Ultimately, it's the lyricism that makes Nature’s Got Away one of the more interesting releases of the year. This album, starting with the pun in its title, duly displays Blau’s wry humor. The absurd and maniacal role-playing of the he-said-she-said mini-epic “Carry and Rob,” for example, playfully merges sensitivity with tension and anger. From there, the album’s lyrics evolve into ruminations on nature. Blau observes, “Mockingbird eats the Black Widow Spider,” (“Mockingbird Diet”), “Hear the calls from a stream of ganders,” “You’re standing still by majestic mountains,” (“Stream of Ganders”), “Stars want your life to guide and admire,” (“It’s the Stars”) ultimately reaching the cathartic line near the end of the album, “Hardships have sailed,” (“2 Becomes 1”).

Lo-fi/home-recording, with its comfortable surroundings and concealing static, most often yields music that’s skeletal and under-confident. While making use of these very techniques, Nature’s Got Away is contrarily expansive and realized. It plays upon juxtapositions; those between the natural and manufactured world and those between fleeting and meditative thought. Are they each one in the same? Does one transform into the other? Whichever ever way you slice it, Nature’s Got Away. Indeed.

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