28 Sep 2022 - Stephan
Dark Pop | Pelagic Records | Release date: 07 Oct 2022
Baby steps. If ever a label has introduced an artist coming from a different background than the majority of its roster in a careful, gradual way, then it has to be Pelagic Records with Swedish pop singer/songwriter Karin Park. First her being part of Årabrot (here our interview with them) alongside her husband Kjetil Nernes (our review of their last record Norwegian Gothic); second her mystical side on the collaboration with Lustmord and third the reissue of her latest album Church of Imagination. But now it’s finally time to present her on an actually new solo album with completely fresh and unheard materi… oh, wait.
No, this possible premise falls apart after the opener “Traces Of Me”, which is the only previously unreleased song on this… compilation? Best of? It’s not what we usually associate with both terms, since the recordings are indeed brand-new and an official “Best of” wouldn’t miss a couple of obvious hits Park is omitting on this Private Collection of her personal favorites.
So what are the following nine tracks? Unplugged acoustic versions? - No. But if you’re familiar with the use of the term on Salt Lake City doomers SubRosa’s Live at Roadburn album, you could rather call them subdued versions.
So she radically reshaped her compositions? - Well, she indeed slowed them down to a more majestic pace and transferred them to a rather clerical sound, based on pump organ or piano with added strings, that fit the actual former church, in which her family lives and records. It also just reflects the artist’s current, often more mature approach to the songs under the light of increased life experience and motherhood. Or to put it a little more mundane: This is just how she plays that stuff live today.
Ultimately the whole album quite naturally links to the overall feeling of Church Of Imagination. Serious and profound, yet also just marvellous in its display of Karin Park’s vocal craftsmanship and the overwhelming flood of emotion she can release through it. She has an enourmous control over and flexibility in her pitches, timbres and vibratos and she showcases her abilities a lot - enough to match the holy grandeur of the sonic space in which these recordings are resonating -, yet without ever letting it overshadow the intention of the song. No matter how impressive she flexes that muscle, she always uses her expression to draw you in. It always feels as if you’re very close to her very personal, indeed private sphere.
Private Collection is an amazing contemporary gothic record, an album best suited for introspective moods during the dark hours of the advanced night, a cushion of glorious beauty to calm and rest your racing mind.
It is only if I don’t listen to it solely on its own, yet put each track side by side with its original version that I discover the untapped potential to raise it to even greater perfection. In principle, Karin Park has chosen two types of songs here and I wish one of them would be represented in a couple of tracks more.
The first type are pieces which have already been relatively solemn or slow before. Apart from “Bending Albert’s Law” (Highwire Poetry) and “Opium” (Apocalypse Pop), those are also mostly found on the still fairly recent Church of Imagination and thus already possess an aesthetic which isn’t very far from their new variants. I still get why those were chosen, because when it comes to raw emotion “Give” or “Glass House” are so huge now that the temptation to include them understandably must have been irresistible.
I think the second type is a little more creative and rewarding though. Those are the tracks which originally had been upbeat and danceable and now go through a much bigger change not only of the arrangements, but also of their initial meaning. While Karin Park always had a certain edge hidden in her songs, there was still a lot of carefree lightheartedness in her 2003 debut’s title track “Superworldunknown”, which has now been turned upside down to become something much more retrospective and melancholic. A similar effect is made by the absence of the heavily punching electronic beats of “Look What You’ve Done”, while the original version of “Tokyo By Night” - not an album track, but a single from Australian dance producer Hook N Sling featuring her on vocals -, was oozing with so much club dancibilty, that it couldn’t be shaken off completely and traces of disco still remain in the new subdued take, creating a nice little change in the album’s sound palette.
You might have noticed that even while I elaborate on my negative criticism I actually still praise Private Collection. That’s because in the end I just have nothing bad to say, but only wish there was more of what I like best. Damn, I’ve become one of those “I wants the old stuff!” fans.
Ok, there’s one thing. And maybe that’s only a matter of seeing it printed for real on the finished product. But as it looks now in its flat 2D preview: WTF is going on on that cover? That looks like the 1990s abducted a perfectly fine, beautiful, strong image and dragged it through photoshopping hell. Adding to that temporal confusion the Roman date on the bottom also says 2023, which is next year last time I checked. Was someone too pessimistic concerning the release date with all the known production bottlenecks? Or maybe… Hold your aluminum foil helmets tight, please! Maybe that’s when that editing style will celebrate its big comeback? God help us all!
Sorry for ending this review on the absolutely undeserved worst note ever! If there’s a hell, I certainly earned my on-way-ticket for it now.