These days I’m desperately trying not to contextualise everything in relation to this ‘new normal-Brexit-Trump-BLM-Climate-Echo-chamber’ thing but seriously? Am I alone in trying to remember what good is, where my happy place is, what’s the actual zeitgeist?
From a musical perspective I think I can remember when consuming music, for example, was as simple as going to a gig, turning on a radio and then buying what you heard in a shop. Now, my information channels are distracted by a diet of bland musical ubiquity, fake news and prank video soundtracks. Half the listening devices in my house don’t even connect to the other various devices that consume or broadcast content on eight or nine formats/platforms. Bottom-line taste barometers like Top of the Pops, NME, and even the record shops themselves are long dead. We don’t even know who headlined Glastonbury this year.
I’m offending Korb by eating into my precious word count for this review, but the point is Korb II brought it all back home, got the old compass back to magnetic north, and chilled me the hell out. We all need this wide, intelligent, cosmic escapism with a thick beat and musical intent.
If your antennae were rotated elsewhere, Korb II is a follow up to Korb’s debut album in 2018. Jonathan Parkes and Alec Wood are the local duo behind it, along with their other projects like Mutante and Arboria. Korb is a full-on band affair; electronic but with big drums and guitars, and reminiscent of a Komische or Krautrock, but with the same futuristic landscape as their other projects.
Track 1, Dirty Robots kicks off surprisingly with a Gil Scott Heron funky bass and a rolling drum groove but throws in a wide grungy soundscape and two distinctly complimentary guitars. The squelchy synth noises set an electronic tone but build the kind of album opener that The Stone Roses would be proud of.
Incase you forgot this album is about guitars, Hollow Earth starts with a bit of warped feedback, a plectrum slide and a muted strum. Subtly, more richly-layered driving rhythmic ambience persists. After two minutes of blissful whirly-ness, the song breaks down almost to nothing, then builds again with a bassline and an organ you never knew was there.
Megastructure is more uptempo, arthouse, and sits on a strong arp synth. The guitars are more melodic, too. Clockwork rhythms and concept album key changes remind you of Korb’s Krautrock roots. I’m also loving the wind down and fade out at the end.
Korb’s Next Android is presumably Part 2 of ‘Korb’s First Android’ found on their first album. The musical link doesn’t hit you straight away as this is deeper than its more ambient cousin, but it’s a keeper.
Next we go full rock, Tape to Tape has a strong bass line with angry distorted fuzz. The drum and bass breakdowns are accompanied a synth string part holding the melody together. Funky mayhem pursues, with simple progression and a crazy-horse synth lead to bring us home. This is my personal favourite.
The Beyond goes synthy and moody again and Hidden Temple cools you down with an acoustic floor tom rhythm. The Kraftwerk inspired synth drone and building organ give you even more texture.
The finale, Night Visionis slower still. Definitely an outro feel to it. This time the synth looks after the bass more than it did in the other tracks, but once again the rich haunting layers of sound hit you again a bit like when you did that sesh watching Alien in a Nottingham student house in 1994.
Amidst all these incredible layers, the album is full of surprise instruments like a sustain pedalled acoustic piano in track 2, an organ, some brass or even a Casio VL Tone (am I right?) which I’m sure appears in Megastructure.
It’s hard to create strong narratives in instrumental music. Personally, I think the duo did that far better in their second Mutante album which I reviewed here, back when we were in the ‘old’ normal. I’d like to see Alec and Jonathan work with a vocalist or some samples a la Public Service Broadcasting, to bring out the storyline – However, they still get a massive thumbs-up and fire emoji from me, simply for the cosmic multitrack creative escapism. Right, back to the real world. Arrgggh!