Pajjama - Karakasa

I've been following the work of Norway's wild Pajjama for quite some time--you may recall this little overview piece I did last year on the band. At the time, I really loved the Zappa/Magma weirdness of their "Starch" debut, and the 8-bit-YMO and 80s nostalgia of the followup "Jane Papaya" tape, but both are very short EP recordings that feel like teasers, only hinting at the potential for this band.

Enter "Karakasa," the first Pajjama full-length released a few months ago by Orange Milk. I knew these crazy kids had a wicked amazing album like this in them. Adroitly incorporating all of their previous influences and many more into a fun and satisfying soundscape that never fails to surprise, this is easily one of my top albums of the year. This tape hangs with the best of recordings along that Giant Claw continuum like "Mutant Glamour," but the Pajjama crew have a knack for occasionally visiting darker, proggier corners, and they love weird jazz chord voicings as a clever contrast to the sometimes simpler textures of early video game-influenced passages. And this is a band--rather than a solo recording project, this album is full of real drum, guitar, and bass work, beautifully played and perfectly recorded. Among the full bands that have explored this kind of video game-infused prog rock like Yakuza Heart Attack and Cheap Dinosaurs, "Karakasa" is the high point of the genre so far.

You know you're in for a new Pajjama experience within the first minute of "Karakasa." Album opener "Chromiel" is a slow, dirgey march through a handful of chords, with lots of processed sounds creating wild static and raw cosmic data above the main overdriven riff. When textures thin out around the 2:30 mark, we get a beautiful clavichord-driven melody supported by crisp drumming holding the piece to a roughly lento kind of tempo. Ultimately, "Chromiel" builds to a very lyrical and royal-feeling finale, pushed along with great low-bass synths drifting slowly through envelope filters. Epic. This is followed by "Ladyboys," which brings back the YMO-meets-NES vibes of the "Jane Papaya" tape. This one feels like it can't decide if it should be the soundtrack to an 80s drama series or a 70s game show, but while it's trying to choose, we get some stripped-down tribal passages, a great fusion guitar section, and swaggering synth funk meltdowns.

Pajjama has particularly stepped up their game in terms of writing incredibly memorable melodies and getting into really slamming grooves on "Karakasa." It's not often that I find myself humming melodies after days away from playful albums like this, but the themes from tunes like "Cream Corpse" (which reappears in modified form in "Cream Birth" later), or the slinky chromatic-inflected "Beach Detective," turn out to be powerful earworms. And the grooves! Early video game music has that characteristically stifled flavor of "swing" inherent to its programming limitations at the time, and while Pajjama often pay tribute to that kind of artificial feel in appropriate places, they lay down some seriously hard funk on this record, from the wild odd-time punch of "Smoke Your Eyes" to the driving triple-meter workouts of "Cream Corpse" and "Metasatan."

My favorite tunes on "Karakasa" are probably "Beach Detective" and album closer "Metasatan." On "Beach Detective," Pajjama swerve into timbral terrain somewhere near early 80s Residents jams, adding some great live basslines and lots of strange background sounds percolating in reverb and delay, eventually settling into the great fusion-y melody mentioned earlier. And "Metasatan" is just epic--a sort of fast-tempo companion to album opener "Chromiel," this tune contrasts a very aggressive rhythm section with relaxed synth melodies and pads that could hang with the most cosmic of kosmische albums. Just before its conclusion, the piece collapses into a great Zappa-ish guitar melody, and then a little hip-hop beat fades to the end.

Word on the e-street is that Pajjama have already been back in the studio working on new material. Now that they've had the chance to stretch their collective legs on a full-length, I suspect that we'll be hearing a lot more about this peculiarly potent band in the future. But be sure to pick up your own copy of "Karakasa" while you still can. Like most Orange Milk releases, this album has great artwork/design by Keith Rankin (who is rapidly becoming the Storm Thorgerson of avant-weirdo cover art), and the tape audio quality is fantastic. Highly recommended.

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