This used to be my thing. Rich, mercurial instrumental music. Melodies that build increasing tension as they meander through back alleys and fly low over exotic landscapes. Imaginative organic instrumentation that disappears suddenly, revealing a second song beneath, a collage of found sounds assembled into a postindustrial groove. Quarrelsome, humid harmonies full of foreboding and existential dread. Soundtracks to unmade movies.
Call it what you want — trip-hop, acid jazz, post-rock — but there is so much of it out there right now that it’s hard for any artist to stand out. Being singular is no antidote for being forgettable.
Karl Webb and Mark Kyriacou, the minds behind Loka, managed to stick out from an elite crowd on Ninja Tunes’s 2000 Xen Cuts compilation. Their track “My Life’s in These Bottles” turned heads despite being buried under 30 tracks from artists such as Amon Tobin, Up Bustle & Out, and Kid Koala. Three years later, however, they’ve released only the three songs found on Beginningless. So far, a beginning is all they’ve got.
The album gets off to a captivating start with a plodding, extremely live-sounding drumbeat and a muted, ominous trumpet. This short piece sounds like Miles Davis sitting in with Mogwai. The second track “Airfling” is more lively, kicking off with a skittering, nearly-funky (no one can be that funky in 6/8 time) Elvin Jones-style groove and more trumpet. The song goes through several movements, slowly adding layers of horns and piano and building up to a DJ Shadow-like breakdown of brushed snares, electronic washes, eastern riffs and hubcap percussion. “Safe Self Tester” evokes Radiohead, not only in the style of the song title, but also in the proggy 7/4 groove and a chord progression that is hell-bent on building tension. However, by the time the second movement kicks in, with its chaotic polyrhythms, wah-wah guitars, and brooding, angular strings, Mahavishnu Orchestra comes to mind.
I’m making too many comparisons here; Webb and Kyriacou are certainly developing a unique sound. They have not released enough material, though, to give their sound the kind of context necessary to figure out what it is they’re trying to do. They obviously do not care about hooks. Their music is searching, visiting world after world without too much concern for beginnings, milestones, or endings.
Perhaps the titles are the clue. In Jainism, an antecedent to Buddhism, “loka” translates roughly as “universe” or “world.” There are several of these worlds, and the lines between them are fuzzy; there are no beginnings or endings, only continuity. Perhaps their music — which is full of motion and reflection — is simply a journey among these worlds.
We’ll know more later this year, when Loka releases its first full length. Until then, I’ll keep listening to the end of the last track. Fifty seconds before the song ends, the music makes an obvious transition between worlds. What was a tumultuous groove becomes something else entirely. There is no sudden stop or fade out; it simply becomes something else. It becomes a symphonic meditation, a French impressionist take on what must be an afternoon sunrise. The album ends on an impossible sunrise. That’s beginningless.