Karaban’s released a trio of exquisitely beautiful pop records, 2006’s Doomed to Make Choices, its cohort Leftovers, and last year’s Sobriety Kills. Now busy in the studio on a follow-up, he’s issued this striking three-song EP. Each of Karaban’s releases seems more pensive than the last, and these stripped-down piano-and-voice arrangements are at once meditative in instrumental tone and expansive in melodic heft. Inspired by a letter from a Civil War general to his wife, Karaban’s written songs whose moodiness conjures up the desolation and fear that soldiers endure before and after battle.
The opening “Sullivan’s Ballou” is played with the piano’s dampers up, chords floating reflectively in their own sustain, intertwining with wordless vocal backing and ghostly images of fallen comrades laying dead in open fields. The harmony vocal of “No Casualties” clings more tightly to the lead, but even with Chris Joyner’s piano playing more ornate patterns, a sense of dread is heard in the defeated undertaking of retreat. The closing “A Far Better Place” is similarly joyless in its declaration of victory, with a piano played up front chiming like funeral bells as the vocals recede into the hereafter.
Earlier comparisons with Michael Penn and Jason Falkner fail to capture the essence of despair permeating these new tracks. Even Karaban’s previous releases do not adequately prepare listeners for these spare, down-tempo readings. That said, the song craft that was built up in layers on Sobriety Kills now allows Karaban to intensify his emotional impact by stripping tracks to their basics. It’s daring to let your melodies and vocals stand naked before listeners’ ears, but Karaban has the goods, trusts his art and shares the rewards. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]