16 Dec 2021 - Stephan
Experimental Soul, Avantgarde Pop | Pelagic Records | Release date: 10 Dec 2021
Let’s not beat around the bush here: It’s very likely that we - being the writers of Veil of Sound and you as the ones reading our nonsense - share a certain affinity to Pelagic Records. In regards of Karin Park this means, that most of us are probably on the same page: we’ve gotten to know her rather recently, first as the congenial partner of her husband Kjetil Nernes in Årabrot, then channeling her inner Lisa Gerrard in her collaboration with electronic musician Lustmord. But her almost twenty years long career as an adventurous pop artist? If you’re not living in Northern Europe and you have neither seen her supporting Lana Del Rey live nor are a musical nerd interested in all worldwide versions of Les Misérables, then it has probably completely passed you by. Time to catch up!
I must admit that I have to concentrate hard on the actual topic of this review, because I’ve taken a marveling voyage through the rabbit-hole of Karin’s videos during the previous weeks and also just recently purchased her 2013 and 2015 albums Highwire Poetry and Apocalypse Pop. My tiny head tends to mash all those impressions together, so I permanently have to force myself to remember from which source the song originates that’s stuck in my head at that very moment. This doesn’t mean her music is too samey on all albums, but rather speaks for the constantly high quality of her output.
Just to put her in a (presumably way too tiny) box, let me stress the fact that Karin Park is a very Scandinavian pop singer, songwriter and musician. It manifests obviously in her accent and expression, in the way her speech melody translates into singing. Combined with the creative will-power of her arrangements it’s easy to draw lines to indeed very diverse artists like Robyn, Aurora, Emilíana Torrini or the latter’s legendary countrywoman whose name shall not be spoken because it distracts too much from all the other beautiful things Iceland has to offer. One comparison however, which over the years has come to the forefront increasingly in the mood of Karin Park’s instrumentals as well as when she belts out dramatic notes in darker timbre, leads me further westward to the American electro avant-pop singer Zola Jesus.
And at this point it’s time to finally talk about the album I’m supposed to talk about here:
Church of Imagination is a reissue, which has already been self-released with a different cover artwork before in early 2020, but went fairly under the radar amidst all the covid noise, so as Pelagic Records was signing the whole Park package, the right decision was made to put it out for a (hopefully this time larger) audience again.
Completing a perfect triple of albums this year, the re-release also makes much sense in relation to Årabrot’s Norwegian Gothic [and the accompanying The World Must Be Destroyed EP], because these records are very much spiritual sisters, both being informed so much by the space of the church Park and Nernes are living and creating in. Both works display a similarly wide spectrum of styles - and both even share a song, since Årabrot’s “Feel It On” is actually a rearrangend rock version of Karin’s much more electronic hymn “Omens To Come”.
Even though these albums are dominated by different singers and genres, Norwegian Gothic and Church of Imagination eventually have much more in commonon than what differs them. They both just use distinct sets of tools to reach their artistic goal. Just like one coerces you to simply call it “rock”, only because it’s the easisest way to get all of its facets under one umbrella, the other one does the same with the conception “pop”, even though it technically is much more than that term, which in truth has never been tied to a definite shape anyway.
In Karin Park’s case, the musical style involves danceable beats as well as raw alternative rock with snarling bass lines. It swells with organs, baroque chamber orchestras and gospel choirs, but also breaks up to passages of meandering ambience. Park moves from the grand gesture of Florence Welch to the dirty directness of Kristeen Young. She may not be David Bowie, as she boldly claims in the army-of-me-energy fueled “Empire Rising”, but the amount of Ziggy Stardust within her can at least rival that of Laurie Anderson.
Church of Imagination doesn’t even hit you as immediately as a can of earworms as for example Highwire Poetry with its ultra-sticky hymn “Thousand Loaded Guns”, but once you’ve internalized the chant book of this congregation, it captivates you all the more and won’t let you go anytime soon. Which is great, because there are new details to discover in each run.
The final icing on the cake of this magnificent kaleidoscope of Karin Park’s talents is that even though it stands strong and confident on its own, we can not only view it as a completing counterpart to Norwegian Gothic, but also allow ourselves the luxury of experiencing it as an appetizer for the next course. Because her follow-up album has already been announced for 2022!