Goings-on in the Djam Karet camp have gotten busier. While bandmates Gayle Ellett and Mike Murray were recording their Hillmen quartet album, drummer-synthesist Chuck Oken, jr., and guitarist-synthesist Mike Henderson were effecting their own unique collaboration as a tandem. Dream Theory In The I.E. appeals more immediately to fans of Djam Karet with its generously electronic blueprint and choicely ambient character that harks back to Suspension & Displacement, Ascension and even Ellett's own Maskit Chamber side project.
The "I.E" part of the equation represents that region of Southern California called the Inland Empire, the locale that has served as Djam Karet's home base since the band's inception in the early-to-mid 1980s. This has to do with the various live performances Oken and Henderson staged last December 2010, hours of improvisations subsequently distilled through meticulous editing into seven compositions, presented as-is with the exception of select postproduction sweetening. Oken and Henderson each performed on keyboards & synths, while Oken also employed his familiar arsenal of sequences, samples and digital percussion, and Henderson brought his 12-string acoustic, electric and lap steel guitars to the mix. The final results have the color and shape of precomposed pieces that retain the energy of the concerts and herald the allure of new, unheard music for fans abroad.
"Alive Enough?" is a superb opening progressive-ambient piece that is very "Djam Karet" in feel and approach — it bears more than a cursory nod to Suspension & Displacement while lingering in the brooding darkness intrinsic to many a Djam work.
"Forgotten Spirits" indulges the Steve Roach connection with its tribal-trance veneer (Roach, singularly ambient music's greatest singular presence, has collaborated with Chuck Oken, jr. and Djam Karet before). Henderson's mournful guitar wails send this into vintage Tangerine Dream territory, even. "Deeper Waters" reveals a pastoral ode that proffers a mirror to older, easier times through its disarming simplicity, a portrait crafted with strummed acoustic guitar chords, guitar feedback loops, murky tones, and the transience of a watercourse.
For their namesake theme, Henderson and Oken trade in all certainty and calm for a vista ripe with surface tension. Lower-register chords on what sounds like a Venusian Wurlitzer gobble up any "peaceful easy feeling" while Henderson's aforementioned feedbacked guitar assumes a monolithic posture. One of the best tracks, and the most uptempo, "Zombie Attack" has more in common with a well-known instrumental rock duo than the walking dead, and rightly so. The percolating synthbass sequence, drum crescendos and searing guitar notes are altogether a sizeable nod to many a Goblin and Fabio Frizzi soundtrack.
The penultimate track, "When All The Birds Die Away," is an exercise in melancholic beauty à la Harold Budd. The 25-minute closing statement, called "John Henry Changes The Rules," transports the listener through a bevy of atmospheres. Three monosynth solos — occurring between 13:40 and 15:27 — and the "robot dub" section that leads into the track's last third emerge as some of the best moments on the disc.
Easily one of the best offerings of 2011.
1. Alive Enough? (8:10)
2. Forgotten Spirits (8:03)
3. Deeper Waters (6:47)
4. Dream Theory In The I.E. (8:36)
5. Zombie Attack (7:09)
6. When All The Birds Die Away (12:25)
7. John Henry Changes The Rules (24:54)
Total Time — 76:04