There are plenty bands who play music that is tough to digest but, after a few full-spins of Karmic Juggernaut’s newest recording “The Dreams That Stuff Are Made Of,” I’d have to classify this as more of an acquired taste as opposed to tough to digest. Lots of folks start with Pad Thai before heading for the curry options, right? I can proudly say that I never go less than 4 of 5 on the “how spicy do you want it?” scale and this very flavorful conglomeration of sounds would sit right about there on that scale.
Of course when a person is acclimated to spicy food, spice from one cuisine is usually similar in effect to spice from a different cuisine. Hearing Mr. Bungle’s self-titled CD in the early-90s was like serving Kung Pao Chicken to a Swedish grandmother. Having that under my belt made hearing Frances the Mute from the Mars Volta not only easier to understand but I was more quick to appreciate it even if it was out of left field for most of the music-listening population.
I was tipped off during my first spin there were “a few guys from Thank You Scientist” in this band (I’m still not sure which guys yet) but that piece of intel opened up my mind even further. Granted, “Bottomless Gypsy Pit” has some pretty eclectic vocals (a clown-faced Geddy Lee was my initial mental image) but once you ride that wave and let the music unfold, one gets some pretty excellent syncopated full-band acrobatics with dynamics that ebb-and-flow and deliver right into the next track. Horn section, flute, walking basslines, bongos and other percussion, odd meters – there are tropes of the musically-sophisticated jamband as well as tenets of jazz fusion in “Krokodil” while facets of disco and hard rock appear in “Robotnik.” An early highlight washed over me at the halfway point of this third track. Vocal harmonies over organs, synths, and Casio keyboard percussion evoke a trance-like moment which was totally unexpected.
Enter the first of three total palate-cleansing interludes which introduces the beast from the next track “Frunobulax.” I’m beginning to think this CD is a concept album. The odd meter makes a return during the verses and it’s apparent the rhythm section is a tightly wound machine when necessary. Surf-rock, art-rock, even if it’s dork-rock, it’s still progressive rock to me. For me, “Circles” links back to the trance-like ending of track 3 with pitched percussion and keyboards then slides into “Moving” which is a highlight if not centerpiece of this recording. With as much fusion you can hear, there is evidence of the highly composed nature of this track, the longest on the CD.
This music isn’t complicated for the sake of being complicated and it isn’t silly just to be silly. It is fun and it is challenging. I keep thinking about Mr. Bungle, The Mars Volta, and Frank Zappa.
What I would consider “side 2” begins with “On Your Mark,” a more plaintive-sounding delivery which could have been written 40 years ago that keeps me thinking of Gentle Giant and Yes with some great jazzy chords and guitar arpeggios. The wah-wah guitar solo at the end is properly placed IHMO.
ASMR fans anyone? “Living in a Lucid Dream” gives the listener an opportunity to experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response with a minute-long monologue that could either bother the living hell out of you or give you brain tingles.
Track 10 and 11 may be expository as far as any concept goes they are not a favorite of mine; too much whimsy. For me, track 12 starts with a call-back to “Circles” with some tribal percussion and eventually opens into full-on legato prog-rock synth/guitar lines and settles into an odd meter verse with a frantic bassline. The song dissolves at the half-way point into a sound collage then comes rocking back into a riff-fest which connects back into the opening legato lines and busts into a hefty guitar solo. This one is a journey.
You will fully understand the vocalist’s range on the last track “Museum Museum”; I think only Cedric could hit those notes and but I’m not positive about that. Props for the bass harmonics on this track along with the swelling guitar notes. The feeling this is a send-off is well-executed. The second half of the track has an outro feel to it; it must be the descending chord progression. The dual guitars and organs are important to this track and have been throughout this whole experience.
I’m only going to mention the production to state that it’s rock-solid even with all the instruments used (can you find the banjo?).
With only a few missteps, “The Dreams That Stuff Are Made Of” is thoroughly enjoyable and retains its’ excitement after multiple listens. I might cut out a pair of tracks but that still leaves over 50 minutes of interesting, high-energy, rhythmic and sonically dense progressive rock encompassing a buffet-full of genres and influences.
1. Bottomless Gypsy Pit
4. WKRM Emergency Broadcast
8. On Your Mark
9. Living in a Lucid Dream
10. Goons, Buffoons, and Carnival Barkers
11. Psycho Billy’s Downtown Adventure
12. Be Careful Loading Camel
13. Museum Museum