Graded on a Curve:
Karima Walker,
Waking the Dreaming Body

The music of Tucson, AZ’s Karima Walker combines her strengths at sound design and as a songwriter, interweaving a folky sensibility that’s stark but robust with tapestries built from field recordings, drones, loops and synth tones. Her new album is quietly psychedelic, with this aura enhanced by its truly solo orientation. Sometimes sweet but more often contemplative and frequently strange, a defining characteristic of Waking the Dreaming Body is its distinctiveness. It’s out now on black or caliche clay colored vinyl, smoky grey cassette, and digital as a corelease through Orindal Records of Chicago and the Keeled Scales label of Austin. The CD begins shipping on March 10.

Waking the Dreaming Body is Karima Walker’s second LP, following-up Hands in Our Names from 2017, though that set was preceded by the “Take Your Time” EP of two years prior and before that, the digital EP “a good year” going way back to 2012 (please note that “Take Your Time” and her first album are both still available on vinyl, the EP as a 10-inch).

Upon reading of the disparate but by no means irreconcilable approaches that constitute Karima Walker’s sound, it might seem to a listener new to her work, as it did to me, that the woozy loops, hovering timbres, and late night breathy strum of Waking the Dreaming Body’s opening selection “Reconstellated” effectively serve up a taste of her sound in tidy microcosm.

Although the basic ingredients are all accounted for in “Reconstellated,” the sheer breadth that’s heard across Walker’s latest is what’s elusive. But it’s early yet. Reflective of her work as a whole, Waking the Dreaming Body is an achievement arrived at over time.

Walker’s oeuvre can be essentially divided into halves, with her EPs being straight-up (but amenable) solo folk excursions with none of the sonic architecture that marks the subsequent LPs. Notably, “Take Your Time” is a tougher and more vivid experience than “a good year,” largely through the use of pedal steel, drums and vocal overdubbing (Walker also seems more confident on her second set).

She emerges fully formed as a sound crafter on Hands in Our Names, though without putting her songwriting prowess on the back-burner. Indeed, her songs are still quite pronounced in the scheme with gestures toward decidedly old-timey-tinged Americana that brought mind the work of Sarah Louise (in the duo House and Land and solo) and The Invisible Comes to Us from Anna & Elizabeth.

Indicative of its title, Waking the Dreaming Body’s second cut “Softer” initially seems to be something of a throwback to Walker’s earliest material, but the echoey infusions surface soon enough and linger at the track’s conclusion. However, it’s “Interlude,” a (too) short but highly successful drone piece, that signals the album’s turn toward the unexpected.

“Window I” begins in song mode, featuring a slightly distant piano, Walker’s voice bright in the foreground, and with synthetic additives serving as a rigid and sparse percussive component. But over half of the piece’s nearly nine-minute length is given over to what strikes the ear as an environmental field recording, as if the titular window of a house has been opened by the shore. Except those source sounds are deliberately but gently manipulated, slowly becoming focused on the ebb and flow of the waves, so that the result is a blend of ambient and cyclical sound collage.

The much shorter “Window II” glistens to life but at a tranquil pace as Walker’s voice deepens the mix of introspection and cascading ethereality. And then, the track doesn’t end so much as it rapidly evaporates, giving way the record’s extended highlight, the 13-minute intermingling of drones, rising and falling tones and chattering loops, “Horizon, Harbor Resonance.”

When I speak of loops, it bears mentioning that Walker’s sound design exists at a remove from contemporary techno and electronica. Instead, as “Horizon, Harbor Resonance” unwinds, I was struck by affinities to Laurie Spiegel and to prime kosmische. Late in the piece, that piano returns, this time sounding even farther away.

The title track follows, bringing us back to folky territory, Walker conjuring a mild similarity to Dylan and Cohen before nudging up nearer to the sound of early M. Ward. I dig it but am even more inclined toward the spacy finale “For Heddi,” which emphasizes how Karima Walker stands apart on the current scene, her music comprised of elements immediately familiar. Bottom line is that on first listen, Waking the Dreaming Body stymied attempts to predict where it was heading, which is rare and worthy of distinction.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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