With the proliferation of Eastern influence in trance, goa, hardstep, gymshorts, bumcrack, or whatever the ecstasy-friendly are calling the mindless thump of dance music these days, it would be easy to say that Karsh Kale’s brand of music is less potent than it once was. We’ve all heard enough throbbing beats with the occasional female vocal gliding across the track to tide us over until Paul Oakenfold’s kids start walking around with pacifiers and dust masks. And sure, if you’ve been downing Red Bull and crank all night and you feel like dancing, it’s probably the only way to go, but adding a bit of chanting does not make your tired house track exotic.
The difference is that Karsh Kale pretty much invented the “Indian Folk + Blips and Beats = Happy Raver Kids” genre. Kale’s Liberation offers little more than what you could have found in the techno bargain bin back when people still called it techno, but it’s done with a flair and originality that proves that he’s still in charge. The album is best suited for those few who haven’t really been exposed to electronic music; if you told me this album was recorded in 1995, I’d believe you. But even though it isn’t exactly revolutionary, it’s still worth a listen.
Fair warning: if you have a problem with tablas (paired Indian hand drums), do not buy this album. Liberation has a crapload of them. But in Kale’s defense, they add a signature style to the songs that gives them personality far surpassing your average techno. The gorgeous “Milan” would surely suffer without tablas forming its backbone before and after it fully blossoms with orchestral brilliance. Instead of relying only on sampled jazz beats, the tablas add a subtle Eastern flavor rather than knocking you over the head with a sitar.
Kale largely strays from the hypnotic allure of the trance beat, and it’s a wise choice. Music this developed and painstakingly crafted would be wasted if used solely to satisfy primal urges of movement. From the roaring feedback of “GK2” to the throwback vocoder and keyboard romp of “Dirty Fellow,” Kale moves seamlessly from standard American electro to traditional Indian melodies. It may not be a new trick, but he’s clearly got it mastered.