For a man who admits to an equal love for the rock antics of The Who and Led Zeppelin as much as the likes of Bowie and Japan, Fake News certainly leans more heavily towards the latter sound. But we live in a world where lines have thankfully blurred, musical tribalism is out of fashion and even genres have had their day. So why can’t a rock drummer also grab a keyboard and make 80’s infused synth-pop? Nothing sounds more healthy to me. And as the man himself says, “music isn’t just entertainment: it’s an important form of expression” and sometimes you need to find different ways of saying what you feel.
One of the restrictions of working with music that is so textured, intricate and dynamically fluid as Richard’s usual musical vehicle, Karda Estra, is that when it comes to live shows, the logistics surrounding the amount of players and gear that would be required to do the music justice is generally too prohibitive. Veil, therefore, feels like his pulling together a body of work, some new songs and instrumentals and some reworked pieces from the Karda Estra canon, that can form the basis of small, intimate live shows. Shows that can range from solo performances to slightly enhanced versions of the same as space and musician availability dictates.
What is great is that you get the best of both worlds, new, stripped back sonic journeys but ones which are built on the same creative pulse, musical references and progressive world view as Karda Estra. (Progressive here is used in the broader, genre hopping, rulebook ignoring sense, rather than any connotations of people dressed as wizards, singing about epic quests…possible performed on ice!)
Last Grains has a wonderful 60’s chamber pop feel, cascading vocals and jaunty guitar work really putting a Chelsea booted spring in the song’s step and at the other extreme Unmarked on Any Map is a haunting piece of pop noir. And alongside these more song based approaches, the more fluid form classical explorations are also given room. Andromeda Variations for Guitar being, as the name would suggest, a wonderfully dexterous, short acoustic guitar piece, hints of Iberia hanging between the darker passages and Amy Fry’s spotlight moment, Chaos Theme For Clarinet, hanging between the sound of a Midtown Manhattan jazz lounge and a slightly whimsical dystopian soundtrack.
It is a collection of songs that shows that even without the usual wide array of musical trappings, the heart of Karda Estra, and Richard Wileman’s music in general, is just as wonderfully mercurial and beguiling even when stripped down to its core. It shows too that the intricacies and originality are central to the way he writes and not merely the result of hanging strange textures and off kilter layers on more conventional structures. And more than anything, if this album marks Richard as a more regular fixture on the gigging circuit, for that alone it is an important step.
As the central hub around which the musically intricate world of Karda Estra revolves, Richard Wileman has been responsible for a wide range of wonderfully textured, unpredictable and eclectic music. He has wandered from intense noir-ish soundtracks to sweeping celestial grandeur and embarked on everything from progressive Avant Gardening trips to jazz infused meanderings. But everyone needs some time out now and again and so here we find him playing with a musically straighter bat. Voice, acoustic guitar, a guest Clarinet for the final track and little else, a far cry from the usual musical layers we find him swathed in but no less glorious a result.
The title track is one of emotive acoustica dressed with just a few musical motifs and sonic embellishments, simple yet stylish and acutely reflective. Best of all after producing a body of, if not instrumental work then music where vocals are used more as ethereal instruments, we hear Richard sing and immediately wonder way we haven’t got to hear more of this with Karda Estra.
Andromeda Variations takes some classical Latin guitar pathways but the songs that top and tail the e.p, The Veil and Chaos Theme For Clarinet, skirt his more familiar territory. What is both exciting and revealing is that these compositions feel like they are the sound of Karda Estra as first thoughts, its ideas refined, polished but retained as more direct and immediate musical communiques, you can occasionally see the same sonic thumbprint in evidence but here the joy lies not in the way those ideas are built into complete musical worlds but in their straightforward and unadorned beauty.
Ghost is a wonderful view into what the composer himself sounds like with the depth of his compositions stripped away, the beating heart and the nerve centre of the whole affair. But more interestingly with the complexity and therefore live logistics of his usual widescreen sound stripped away, does this e.p. herald Richard Wileman as a more regular live performer? I do hope so.
Richard Wileman has used the Karda Estra musical mode of transport to explore some very interesting places over the years. From progressive landscapes, taut horrific scores, dark noir-ish themes and even the death of galaxies, and the music always matches both the depth and breadth of the subject matter it is encapsulating.
And if last time out The Seas and The Stars placed him at a very Moorcock-esque location, looking up from an empty shore to witness the collision of The Andromeda galaxy and our own, that blend of science fiction and science fact which is never far from the surface is again the topic of instrumental conversation for his latest album.
The Fermi Paradox is a tug of war between super slick jazz and a spot of musical avant-gardening, matching the contrasting arguments of the Paradox itself; that contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and the high estimates proposed by The Drake Equation. I mention this only because it explains the both theoretical and physical nature of the journey that this album takes you on.
Pastoral tones are layered over a piano loaded with anticipation and expectation accompany our wandering around the dwarf planet Ceres, whilst Obelisk Of Cruithne is built from sinister tones and brooding staccato deliveries before wandering off into electric space fuzz and alien radio noise.
We visit theoretical locations such as the controversial Theia through waves and washes of sound, white noise bleeding into music and vice versa and end up amongst the gas swirls of Tyche and some suitably sixties, sci-fi sound tracking.
As always it is a truly unique experience, a sort of beat-era space opera, a musical journey from the smooth and familiar to the challenging and mercurial just as the themes explored takes us into unexplored territories, distant locations and hypothetical realms. I should imagine that if history were different and Serge Gainsbourg had been the first man in space, this is exactly the sort of thing he would have been listening to as he left earth’s atmosphere.
Karda Estra has always provided the sound track to truly big ideas, deep thoughts and boundless expanse, so the latest attempt to “chronicle 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.” is perfect territory to be working in.
The idea of someone stood alone on that shoreline witnessing the end of existence, the beautiful and destructive final act in the story of the galaxy, sounds like a scene from Iain M Banks at his most imaginative or Michael Moorcock at his most surreal and as such the music that is conjured here is as equally unique. Evolving from the gentler themes that evoke the empty shore to the shimmering and fractured music that captures the approach of the encroaching galaxy and the aftermath of the resulting destruction.
These are not songs, those familiar with previous Karda Estra records wouldn’t be expecting anything so mundane anyway, but soundtracks or musical statements created through a wide range of instruments, many more usually found in the classical and folk repertoire. It merges disembodied sounds with sweeping orchestration, mournful piano lines with melancholic woodwind, delicate acoustic guitars with brooding electronica and the result is music that bridges a gap between the dark and the ethereal, sounds that are familiar yet often heavenly and occasionally suitably alien.
As always it is music that opens the mind to the impossible questions, questions about the cyclical nature of the death and rebirth of the universe, the transient nature of life, the majesty and unfathomable beauty of the destruction of worlds, systems, and galaxies. There aren’t many records that simultaneously evoke astro-physics, philosophy and Roy Batty’s famous last speech in Blade Runner, but you can always count on Karda Estra to give you more than you bargained for.
Fans of truly progressive music will be thrilled to know that Richard Wileman, the man behind the mercurial Karda Estra, has just posted a free album on the bands Bandcamp page. Spanning over a decade of the bands evolutionary path, the eight tracks that make up “An Introduction to Karda Estra” are a wonderful addition to any broad minded music fans collection.
For a band that have wandered between symphonic, progressive rock, classical, film noir sound tracks, gothic and much more besides, this will provide the perfect spring board from which to dive into their sublime waters.
Grab your free album HERE
Karda Estra is like a box of chocolates. Okay, Karda Estra is like a box of chocolates that has been through a blender and then served up on a plate whose colour, texture and even dimensions seem to mutate even as you eat from it. The point being that every time you press play on a Karda Estra record, you really don’t know what you are going to get. Past offerings have veered from symphonic Prog epics to pastoral dreamscape pop, from gothic film score to experimental jazz, often within the same album.
From a review point of view I found this their most challenging to put into words. Past reflections of composer Richard Wileman’s journeys into realms of classical grandeur or ambient drifts through space opera soundtracks are still noticeable but like 2007’s Last of The Libertine; here there are slower, free jazz vibes, tangential modern classical meanderings and avant-garde cinematic structures.
But for all its lack of generic conformity, or its creation of whole new ones, the composition is powerful, hypnotic and eminently listenable and should be experienced the way all such mercurial creations should, with a totally open mind. It is baffling and beautifully, musically poignant yet a wonderfully open canvas of sounds and above all it is uniquely Karda Estra or maybe just Karda Esoteric.
Everything you need to know about KE can be found HERE
Some music is easy to pigeon hole for purpose. Music to dance to, music to chill out to, music that excites or soothes, makes a statement or just makes a pleasant noise. Composer Richard Wileman, under the title of Karda Estra, however takes a different route, he makes music that explores. Sitting somewhere between cinematic soundtrack and ambient progressive soundscaping, past inspirations have seen his music invoke gothic romance, Hammer horror scores , science fiction, pulp era novels, pastoral dream pop and even free jazz, often blending seamlessly together on the same album.
Here the same eclecticism is at work on what is effectively a joint release of two distinctly separate albums. Mondo Profondo is the new work and takes its lead from a mix of apocalyptic literature, Lovecraftian horror, symphonic jazz and the sound tracks of the Italian Mondo films that the album title implies. Like all of Richards past work this is music with depth and grandeur, music that demands attention and contemplation rather than a mere cursory listen.
And so it is with the second work to be found here, 2011’s New Worlds. From such titles as Chronoclasm and The Sky Below science fiction fans will quickly spot the references to some of the genres classic novels and the music acts like a sound track to them. A spacey mix of sweeping orchestrations that suggest dying galaxies, strange alien vistas and the new worlds of the title plus the occasional nod to the 60’s heyday of the genre.
The sleeve notes suggest a couple of possibilities for Karda Estra’s genre, Futuristic Nostalgia? Celestial Lounge? whatever you want to call it you would be hard pushed to find another artist or band original and far seeing enough to join them in whichever pigeon hole you chose to place them.