Karminsky Experience Inc.
The Power Of Suggestion
The Kaminsky Experience Inc. is the London-based electronic music duo of James Munns and Martin Dingle whose debut album of 2003 The Power Of Suggestion didn't come as a surprise for those in the know because the two fellows already released EP's and singles before this millennium, many of which are interwoven in this album as well.
The Power Of Suggestion doesn't hide its specific style as can be seen on the front artwork already. This is a vivid travelog album of the Oriental kind, with different locations, scents and landscapes, both wide and narrow, floating by in rapid fashion. Sitars, shawms, Oriental chants, sample snippets of movies and Middle Eastern tone sequences reach the ears of the listener, and since the loop-based nature of this album allows the concoction of many curlicues, the result is a lively mélange of glowing heat, pompous arrangements and dark mystique.
Two things improve the listening experience further, although fans of vintage Exotica might disagree: for one, the percussion is tremendously exotic and eclectic, but always accessible. Bongos, congas, djembes, claves and various other devices either create a dynamic thicket or result in a cautious accompaniment that underlines the enigma. Secondly, the various synthesizer hooks and Hammond organ sweeps cause a soothing ambience. Solemnity, majesty or danger are much improved thanks to these electronic setups. A whopping 14 tracks made it to the album, most of them succeed in their approach of creating a dense atmosphere, but in-between the beat-driven erections are shimmering gems that outshine everything else and tower above the lounge traits of this release. If you're up for a faux-Oriental journey full of kitsch, stereotypical tonalities and surprising particles, then let's grab a camel!
Departures is the point of, well, departure that uses a sample of a composition by film musician Sven Libaek. The wide scope of this release is thus depicted from its beginning already. Launching with a bustling street scene showing traffic noise and bypassing pedestrians, Libaek's rose-tinted Hollywood strings wash over the listener and whirr gently in the background. A downbeat sets in with loops of glinting vibraphones, horn sections and filtered wah-wah synthesizers; all devices depict a lazy lounge scenery that is as dependent on the cosmopolitan factor as it is on the escape of this aurally painted metropolis. And so the arrangement oscillates between lavish mellowness and yearning undertones in minor. A good start, especially due to Libaek's cinematic composition.
The over eight minutes long Assignment Istanbul is constructed entirely differently. Oriental flutes merge with a pompously dusky two-note synth string section that is broadened to four notes just a few seconds later. The mood is danger-evoking, full of mystique but also doleful. Screeching violin samples are interspersed and function as purposefully cheap shocking devices. Mellow exotic percussion sets in, and although it is made with an electronic drum kit, the bongos and congas sound vivid and life-like. It is the middle section that revs things up for good by fending off the melancholy with a rapid-firing timpani- and funk guitar-laden groove, pulsating Space-Age glitters and galactic synth pads. Sunset-colored Honky Tonk pianos round the arcane song off.
While the titular The Power Of Suggestion is a quirky Trip Hop piece with dubby basslines, stereo-panned shawms and zipping sound effects that altogether paint the session of a snobby hypnotist, Belly Disco remains in glaring Middle Eastern territories with deliciously enigmatic sitars and an emphasis on a fast-paced bongo-fueled breakbeat with whispering female voices and spectral howls. The aura of dangerous lust is a bit thinned due to the overly strong beats, but in the end it's a tense club-oriented song, so I won't complain.
A Little Happening is the sleaziest song on the album with a clichéd but eternally working downspiraling double bass accompaniment whose jazzy origins hark back on investigative private eye themes. Wonky piano motifs, raspy voices, warbled flute intersections, dirty saxophone layers and frosty cymbals erect the lounge build-up further. Introducing Louis Pachini is an equally sleazy theme, but it brings in funky wah-wah guitars, female laughter, meandering synth strings and the multilayered glitz of reverberated Rock organ eruptions. It is a suitable theme for magicians and the perfect background music for illusionists. It's a smoother, dreamier version of Mandingo's Savage Rite of 1975, and even though the track is full of riddles and secrets, it is soothing and balmy.
The Wayward Camel brings the listener back to the Orient. Starting with a temple gong and Middle Eastern string instruments, it is the fantastically hollow and echoey percussion that elevates the liveliness of this song to new levels. It seems as if it was recorded in a real bar or tavern. The clichéd but enchanting voice of Beat Girl is the icing on the cake. It's one of the best kitschy Oriental vignettes ever created by an Occidental act. It's fake and relies heavily on Western assumptions and prejudices, but hey, that has always been the nucleus of Exotica, so again, no complaints from my side. Shall We Dance? is an entrancing track despite its upbeat and frantic nature. It's full of 60's Hollywood dancing lesson goodness, but its signature inclusion is the castanet-driven djembe groove full of Middle Eastern guitar twangs. It's a rhythm that moves me, it's pure neo-Exotica with slight traces of savage scents.
While the Hip Sheik is an over seven minutes long take of the previously released radio edit with field recordings of passing trains, sizzling-hot crescendoing buzzes and yet another presentation of a superb rhythmic madness of staccato bongos which are accentuated by dark brass loops and baneful electric guitar licks, the short but stone-cold interlude A Curious Observer is based on pernicious bass drones, Oriental synth string licks, the first and only inclusion of claves and thrown in mystery wind chimes. It's an underwhelming track that relies too much on a dark atmosphere. It doesn't fit where it sits and would've been a good closer. As dark as this interlude is, things get dramatically brighter.
The next skit called Exploration is probably Munns' and Dingle's best-known composition. It's melodious, exotic, mellifluous and tremendously catchy. Merging the blurry fields of golden-shimmering sitars with bass guitar licks in higher regions and the glowing report of an explorer, the climax of Exploration consists of an eleven-note sitar loop that is bright, positive and excitingly colorful. The iridescently sparkling synth sweeps augment the powerful vividness even further and make this the most melodious song of the album that is easy to access and Oriental enough to sound exotic. I wonder how many people were drawn to the genre by this song alone. It's an essential piece of post-60's Exotica and a huge favorite of mine. This time, it's less about the percussion and all about the multitude of melodies and warm layers.
The following Behind The Bamboo Curtain is the next showstopper, meshing the Ambient genre with the Exotica craze and creating a mysterious mix of sparkling wind chimes, a carefully adjusted double bass dub, positively schmaltzy sitar improvisations, wah-wah guitars and a bold reliance on rapturous synthesizer washes that are never too thick as to detract from the relaxing aura. If you aren't too fond of the beat-focused pieces by the Karminksy Experience, Behind The Bamboo Curtain offers the greatest value to you, I believe. It is catchy, calm and tranquilizing. The mere 22 seconds long nocturnal mystery synth ambience of Audio Sonic leads right into the closing track Something For Madeleine: it's a fuzzy big band take with wonkily trembling Hammond organs, cascading horn sections, spacey pulses and Funk guitars on a breakbeat. It's a lackluster closer that doesn't do anything for me. It's neither exotic or Oriental, nor too catchy. But that's the only true dud from my point of view, so no one is hurt and everything's fine with me!
The Power Of Suggestion is a wonderfully Oriental travelog album with catchy melodies, even better percussion layers and the occasional flaw. For instance, some of the tracks cannot be linked to the pompous Middle Eastern setting of adventure, mystique, and dangerous journeys that is otherwise so cohesively built throughout the album, among them the opening and the closing track, as well as the occasional interlude. This isn't a huge flaw, but these instances are all the more clear-cut, as the rest of the album is so exciting and delicious. Fans of vintage Exotica will admittedly mind some of the bolder Trip Hop and Breakbeat rhythms as well as the synthetic drums that are frequently distributed, but for each sampled drum there are life-like counterparts that should please even die-hard nitpickers: Belly Disco and The Wayward Camel specifically succeed in creating an aural diorama of wide deserts and intimate alcoves with the smell of hookah smoke all over them. And let's not forget about the signature anthem Exploration, an Oriental Exotica hymn of the finest order.
Likewise, Behind The Bamboo Curtain is eminently melodious as well, but paints its setting in pastel colors and gets rid of the beats in order to deliver the most wonderful example of some tiny subgenre called Ambient Exotica. The Karminsky Experience deliver a neat travelog album through the Orient, and while the duo incessantly relies on various clichés, there are so many dense tracks that blow me away time and again. Fans of electronic music will probably adjust quicker to the mysterious and occasionally threatening soundscapes, and I guess that these fans were the target group during the production process, but since the revival of Exotica brought us many electronic acts like Tipsy, Kava Kon, the Sunday Combo, The Society For The Emancipation Of Sampling or the Narco Lounge Combo, The Karminsky Experience fits perfectly into the greater scheme of things. If you are interested in the faux-Oriental kind of Exotica music and don't mind – or actually embrace – thunderous beats, scintillating wind chimes and bongo grooves, The Power Of Suggestion is the top pick of all neo-Exotica albums in this regard!
Exotica Review 103: Karminsky Experience Inc. – The Power Of Suggestion (2003). Originally published on Aug. 4, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.
You'll often find me in the virtual pages of PopMatters carping on about this or that album released overseas that was introduced shamefully late to the American marketplace, or never introduced at all except as a fabulously overpriced, connoisseurs-only import. But in the case of the London-based DJ duo called the Karminsky Experience Inc., who are just now making their stateside debut nearly seven years after releasing their first record, it's hard for me to work up much of a protest. Here's a couple of guys, after all, who site Roy Budd as one of their biggest influences. "Who?" my American readers ask. Exactly. Even when they were putting out retro-hipster easy listening compilations featuring the likes of Burt Bacharach and Brigitte Bardot, there was always something about the sensibilities of Martin Dingle and James Munns that remained peculiarly English (Budd, by the way, was a British film composer big in the '70s, best-known for his work on Get Carter). Even their names -- Dingle and Munns -- sound like a London accounting firm.
English or not, however, the release of the first full-length collection of Karminsky originals has been worth the wait for fans on both sides of the pond. Dingle and Munns share a love of retro exotica and dub/trip-hop beats with their American counterparts Thievery Corporation -- whose Eighteenth Street Lounge label is giving The Power of Suggestion its U.S. release -- but they bring to this basic palette of bachelor pad sounds a sensibility at once cheekier and more cinematic, making for one of the most diverse, entertaining downtempo albums in recent memory.
The album starts out with the sounds of an airport before slowly fading into the lovely, melting strings and vibraphone of "Departures" -- a nod to ambient pioneer Brian Eno's Music for Airports, perhaps, or an ironic acknowledgement of the song's Muzak-y vibe. The next track, "Assignment Istanbul", is more typical of the Karminsky sound, an expert blend of cinematic strings, Middle Eastern percussion, and propulsive, chase-music rhythms played at a jazzy, syncopated tempo. Then comes the title track, and with it our first overt introduction to Dingle's and Munns' abundant sense of humor, as they set spoken-word samples of a hypnotist's spiel against a groove-heavy, space-jazz backdrop. "How do you feel?" a voice repeatedly asks, until an innocent, Dorothy-like voice finally answers: "Fine, thank you". "Thank you, young lady" the voice replies. "We'll get back to removing the needles in just a few moments".
Having lulled us, pursued us, and hypnotized us, the Karminskys then proceed to seduce us, with a sultry assist from Beat Girl, who has an unfortunate stage name but a wonderfully breathy, bedroomy voice that murmurs through the exotic "Belly Disco" like a harem girl glimpsed through the columns of a pasha's palace. Beat Girl's kittenish croons also enliven the next track, "A Little Happening", though the focus here is on the silly, Seussian beat poetry of Mike Flowers: "Take a color like red / Or a color like blue instead / Take a note like C / Or a letter like U". Dingle and Munns give Flowers's finger-popping verses an appropriately cool cat, jazzy backdrop, but both they and he are more interesting on "The Wayward Camel", an irresistible romp that sets Beat Girl's vampy ululations and Flowers' surreal story of a snowbound camel to a bossa nova beat and Middle Eastern strings.
In between these tracks, we get another spacey, retro-futurist jazz instrumental called "Introducing Louis Pachini", which shows off the Karminskys knack for creating great, atmospheric theme music for non-existent spy thrillers, a talent they share with fellow English "invisible-soundtrack" producers like David Holmes and Tim "Love" Lee. "The Hip Sheik" has a similar soundtracky quality to it, repeating as it does a few simple motifs that one could imagine serving as transitional music as our hero, perhaps an Arabian double agent sent to infiltrate an evil terrorist operation, ducks out the back exit of some top secret international spy agency headquarters and hops on his motorbike to zip off through the streets of Damascus.
After more Arabian-influenced music, a brooding transitional piece called "A Curious Observer", we come to the album's oldest track, and arguably still its best, "Exploration", which American downtempo fans will recognize from Thievery Corporation's contribution to the DJ-Kicks series. Over an insistently funky bassline, played by Gary Crockett of the legendary acid jazz pioneers James Taylor Quartet, synth and sitar drones swirl in and out of each other hypnotically as the unassuming voice of an astronaut explains, "That's the reason we're exploring; you never know what you'll find on an exploration". This is space age groove music at its finest; it's hard to fault the Karminskys for never topping it, even though they originally released "Exploration" more than four years ago.
The album's closing tracks nicely summarize the duo's two sides; where "Behind the Bamboo Curtain" is all dreamy atmosphere, sitars, chimes, and tablas, "Something for Madeleine" ends things on a sweetly soulful note thanks to a jazzy trip-hop beat, trumpet, organ, and a slouching, drunken string section. Both tracks, like the rest of The Power of Suggestion, positively ooze cool, in a way that's still unmistakably British but this time, hopefully, a little more accessible to American audiences. Fans of Thievery Corporation and their downtempo brethren now have a new corporation to invest in -- Karminsky Experience, Inc.