Idols In The Flesh – Karda Estra (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There is much talk at the moment about the challenges facing musicians cut off from their place of work, much moaning about lack of support for the arts and those who make a living within. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media about the state of the world and the future of art in general, not to mention how creative people are going to play the next gas bill. But that’s the key word isn’t it. Creative. Surely the answer to such problems comes from finding creative solutions to such problems. If you like to call yourself a creative, perhaps now is the time to truly earn the title.

And that is what I have always admired about Richard Wileman, the man behind Karda Estra. He has always found creative solutions to the challenges at hand. The ornateness and complexity of the Karda Estra musical vehicle has always pretty much logistically and financially ruled out the possibility of doing live shows. So faced with this and a hankering to get back on stage he took a slightly tangental turn producing a whole series of albums and playing gigs under his own name, often no less intricate than his pervious work but essentially easier to reproduce live. A sort of travel edition of Karda Estra if you will.

And his approach to keeping the Karda Estra brand going when faced with the strictures of lockdown has been equally fascinating, and Idols in The Flesh is the result. Karda Estra has long leant on a whole bank of orchestral sounds recorded in traditional studio fashion to create the scope and grandeur that you associate with the name. This time out we have an album which turns more to the ever-present ambient and filmic undercurrents to create the same majesty.

Largely a solo effort, with just some voice as instrument vocals from long term collaborator Amy Fry on the final track, Idols in The Flesh is a gorgeous collection of music, covering just as much dynamic ground as previous albums, only doing so through longer and more languid texture building. Often one gossamer sound is laid upon another repeatedly so that gradually the light no longer gets in and the weight of such designs starts bearing down, at other times it feels like a watercolour artist at work, merely washing the page with atmospheres and sonic hues, allowing the space between the colour to work as hard as the music itself.

And even though the tools at his disposal have changed somewhat, this is still very much a Karda Estra album and it runs through just as many twists and turns as those which have gone before. Idols In The Flesh Part 1 is built from haze and hush which grow into haunting and claustrophobic swirls, Part 2 is punctuated by ecclesiastical organ sweeps, brooding bass and Wileman’s neat avant-classical acoustic guitar work and The Unhappy Breed feels like a deconstructed pop song but back together in anagrammatical fashion so that you recognise small sections but when gazed on from a distance is truly unique. The album rounds off with Part 4 which wanders through all manner of sonic temperature and texture, slowly drifting along, embracing industrial soundscapes and disembodied voices, sometimes almost fading away completely to return to the fore with new ideas and new directions of musical travel, as diabolical as it is delicious.

Idols In The Flesh should be a lesson to us all. Perhaps you can’t make the music that you want to, perhaps the challenges are unlike anything that you have faced before, but perhaps that is what separates the true creatives, in every sense of the word, from those who just want to be seen to be riding the same train. Richard Wileman can be found riding in first class.

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