In Place of Real Insight (Southern)

By Bob Bahr

Pondering guitars, hilly dynamics, despondent vocals, prominent bass lines _ Karate makes rock music that is familiar to Louisvillians. For two albums now, the Massachusetts quartet has been releasing songs that stand well on their own merits, and yet leave a nagging feeling in the listener. It's the underground music equivalent of Hardee's roast beef sandwiches and fried chicken, to make a rather unpleasant analogy. They both taste okay, but in the back of your head, you always think about how Arby's and KFC did it first and do it better.

Is this fair? No, but Karate is making their own creative decisions, and probably realize the consequences. Sound like some other bands or music movement, and you run some clearly delineated risks.

Karate ran the risk, and artistically, the risk has paid off _ safely, not handsomely. A bit more pop-friendly than their 1995 self-titled debut, In Place of Real Insight has some catchy melodies in places. "Die Die" has an accessibility almost on par with any given R.E.M. song; there's even an AM-radio-suitable guitar solo plunked down in the middle of that waltz-time tune. Underground rock sensibilities remain holed-up in the lyrics and the song title.

What differentiates Karate from other bands are the lyrics and the singing. Sketchy images outline moods and perspectives, but mostly (to steal their own phrase) the lyrics boast bleakness in place of real insight. Geoffrey Farina's voice, which hovers uncertainly around a slight flatness, sounds resigned in its clear, high tone. His phrasing and intonation is reminiscent of Roger Waters.

But more than anything else, what local music scenesters are going to hear in Karate is Slint. The debt must be acknowledged and paid _ then Karate listening can be done in earnest.

Evidently, the group is trying to book a show in town around June 4, and In Place of Real Insight is good enough to suggest attendance. I'll be there, albeit toting some skepticism.