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Album Reviews

Album Review – Jovan Karcic – 2015

Band – Jovan Karcic
Album / Label – 2015 / Scioto Records
Rating – 6.5 / 10

If you’ve lived in Columbus long enough, you’ve probably come across Jovan Karcic.

You may not recognize him or his name, but he has a trail of musical breadcrumbs spanning over two decades that includes legendary punk act Gaunt, The Black Swans and his current endeavor Scrawl. When he’s not making music, he runs a coffee shop in Clintonville called Yeah, Me Too. Tucked between the Eat, Purr, Love Café and Savor Growl, you might even miss it if you didn’t know what you’re looking for.

But don’t bother calling them to see if they’re open; there literally is not a phone inside. No chairs, either. And no goofy Starbucks lingo, thank God. I guess you could say Jovan Karcic is a no bullshit kind of guy, and that’s just the way I like my coffee, as well. But we’re not here to talk about French press. No, we’re here to delve into his newest album titled 2015.

One of my favorite things about this record is that Karcic actually recorded the majority of it in the tiny shop. To say it’s DIY is an understatement on that level, but along the way Karcic called upon a few of his friends; namely the venerable Counterfeit Madison and Lisa Bella Donna. The amount of musical ability between just those three would surely tickle the fascination of anyone looking for good honest music.

The record tells a story from the perspective of a middle aged man (Karcic himself in 2015) looking back on the bumps and bruises of his younger days. He likens the journey to climbing a hill, which is a familiar metaphor I’ve heard many use when describing the aging process.

The tale begins with King, and immediately you are treated to jazzy keyboards before you’re plunged into a massive soundscape that makes you scratch your ears. You honestly have to listen to the track three or four times before you’re able to separate every twinkle and blip from one another. It all blends into what I can only describe as a cleansing for your ear canals, and at 2:28 it ends almost as abruptly as it begins, leaving you yearning for what must happen next.

Tumbleweed gives you a heavy dose of synthesized sobriety before Karcic picks back up on his tale of climbing a metaphorical hill. Again, it took me a few listens on this one to really accept his unique tone. If you listen hard enough you can definitely pick out who is singing the female harmony part. The song beeps and wobbles at its mid-point before shifting its entire dynamic, almost as Derek and the Dominos gave you two wonderful parts for the price of one on Layla.

Larry’s has a more cohesive feel to it, with less musical shifting and more focus on brilliant lyrical work. “Tonight the booths are filled with people; the tabletops are carved with history’s initials” might be the most fascinating line on the entire album. Karcic’s voice seems to swim among the electronic bloops and blips that paint this ethereal tale about an old dive bar on the corner of Woodruff and High.

By the time you get to Gambler’s Dream, you might be asking yourself what else Karcic could throw at you to catch you off-guard. The entire record is nothing short of an exquisite exploration; something you might hear half-way to Mars to go hang out with Opportunity (RIP). Suddenly, you hear the sharp twinkle of a harp amongst the keys and clatter. “Where are the naysayers? Will there be a banquet?” Karcic asks, almost sarcastically recalling his marvelous night-time fantasy.

On Lesserman, Karcic’s voice is clearer than on the last few, and you find yourself wondering where you’ve heard it before. The closest thing I could derive was an older Gregg Alexander, minus the silly fishing hat and falsetto, reflecting on 20-plus years of obscure fame. I believe that’s The Alwood Sisters you hear harmonizing on this track, and it’s worth noting that that specific band also features Karcic and his wife Amy.

Am I Not Enough is a question that every human must ask themselves at least once in their life. It’s a dialed back track with an easy drum-and-bass part pushing it forward. Karcic lyrics are poignant throughout as he croons “am I not enough, cursing as a madman? Stalking the streets, no place to go…” The song almost feels like Karcic is spinning a wheel to decide which instrument to add next. Flute? Piano? Guitar? If it wasn’t so relaxing, I would almost call it chaotic.

The longest track on the record is Feet On The Ground, and it serves as sort of a segue between the first half of the journey and the descent. It is literally all downhill from there. The song has a lot of atmosphere sprinkled between a buzzing guitar, a bouncy synthesizer and a twinkling xylophone. It has a little bit of everything for everyone, almost too much so on this number.

Echo Echo takes a sharp turn and focuses more on vocal harmonization, and perhaps you wonder if Matthew Bellamy had a hand in putting it together. There is enough fuzz and buzz that the Muse front-man would probably be impressed, as well.

In Deal An Ace, however, Karcic finds himself waxing poetic about his younger days, repeating “Damn the dark days of my youth” over and over again. The jazzy twinkling aura returns, at least for the first half of the song, before Karcic drops my favorite line, “catch a fire, leave a trace, make an impact, deal an ace…”

Nearing the end of our journey, we find Joy and Pain, which feels like a John Mellencamp story, except that the Cougar would obviously never dare to have a heaping handful of synthesizers on one of his songs. It’s a cute story that builds into the final track, Shadow and Echo. The orchestra you hear here was actually recorded in Hollywood by legendary composer Brent Fischer, whose stable of credits include Prince, Toni Braxton and his father Clare. It is a fitting end to this figurative journey, soaring and diving until finally coming to rest.

When trying to describe a record, I try to think of two or three words that best fit what I was just treated with. Relaxing and ambitious were the first two that came to me, but then I realized that anything else I tried to use to relate to it would only serve as a juxtaposition. The complete contrast of harmony and discord are found in almost every song, to the point where if you don’t immediately get it, you might get lost among the sheer irrationality of it all.  That may be the biggest detraction to the entire record.

But it is in that madness that you find the cohesion, the relaxation and the brilliance. Karcic has found a way to harness the many splinters within him to build a great tapestry of sound, one that should certainly be revered. It is much more poetic than pop music, so don’t come around looking for smash hits and singles. Just like you shouldn’t go to Yeah, Me Too if you’re looking for a blueberry torte and a caramel macchiato, or whatever the hell the kids are drinking these days.

Like I said – Karcic is my kind of guy, and this is my kind of record for winding down a long day, or relaxing over the weekend.5

Track Listing

  1. King
  2. Tumbleweed
  3. Larry’s
  4. Gambler’s Dream
  5. Lesserman
  6. Am I Not Enough
  7. Feet on the Ground
  8. Echo Echo
  9. Deal an Ace
  10. Joy and Pain
  11. Shadow and Echo

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