June 23, 2006

Philip E. Karnats "Pleasesuite"

Philip E. Karnats is perhaps best known for being the guitarist in the final incarnation of Tripping Daisy. He joined the band shortly after the one-hit wonder days of "I Got a Girl," and it's not unreasonable to suggest that his joining the band played a part in the band's redefinition of their artistic sensibilities, cumulating in the release of the utterly amazingly beautiful Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb. After the band came to a sudden end, he seemingly disappeared, popping up here and there, performing studio and pick-up duties for the Polyphonic Spree. But Pleasesuite, his solo debut, doesn't sound remotely like the Polyphonic Spree. It also doesn't sound anything remotely like Tripping Daisy, either; no, in fact, the closest artistic comparison one could make is to the early recordings of Brainiac/Enon's John Schmersal. It's not surprising, considering that Brainiac and Tripping Daisy were friends and shared the same sort of musical vision. Like Enon, Karnats' style is all over the map; from the mellow drones of "Learn Defeat" and "Smoke + Sediment" and the glam-rock weirdness of "Spinning Lids (On a Holiday Retreat Beach)" to the raucous rock of "Sick of Walkin'" and the Beck-like "Too Much to Chew," there's not a style or a sound Karnats doesn't seem to want to explore.

Pleasesuite is very much a solo affair. Aside from some female backing vocals and a sampled drum bit from a recording he made of Josh Garza ten years ago, he handles everything by himself, recording his songs in his Chicago basement. That is the root of Pleasesuite's greatest flaw: the record, while interesting, lacks the variety and interplay that comes from having the input of a real band. When you're playing everything yourself, you deny yourself the dynamic that can only come from having a real drummer, guitarist, and keyboard player, and your music will often feel stunted and two-dimensional. For the few great moments of Pleasesuite, there are plenty of moments that feel underwhelming and incomplete. Still, it's quite possible that Karnats did not initially intend to make a record until after he had recorded most of these songs. In that case, it would probably not be a bad idea for him to invest in a band; he has some good ideas, but they don't seem to blossom like they should. Considering his storied pedigree—and his caged weirdness and sonic ideas—it's not unrealistic to say that Karnats could really bloom in a more traditional setting. Hopefully he'll get a band for his next record, because it would make a big difference in his sound, and maybe the results won't sound so disappointingly unimpressive.

Label Website: http://www.goodrecordsrecordings.com

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