Upon its announcement alongside the release of previous single ‘Artifice’, Sundara Karma frontman Oscar Pollock was keen to note that he thinks their latest EP, Kill Me, preserves the ‘organic element’ that their music has embodied to date. He’s right – their first two albums did have a distinct sense of being organic. On their sophomore effort Ulfilas’ Alphabet, for instance, Pollock is svelt and suave – a svengali character crooning over the top of tracks which could have you tapping your feet, scratching your head, or doing both at once (see ‘Greenhands’, ‘Higher States’ and ‘Symbols of Joy and Eternity’ respectively’). Meanwhile, on their debut LP Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Restropspect, Pollock was a figurehead standing atop the bastion, anchored and spurred on by the grounded immediacy of the band’s songwriting. What they had in common was a unique blend of a talented wordsmith and an uncanny ear for catchy, rock-solid indie.
Pollock wrote the last album while in isolation, living in the English countryside. Contrastingly, Kill Me is the product of Pollock, alongside Clarence Clarity, being amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. And that comes accross. The five tracks, featuring the previously released ‘Kill Me’ and ‘Artifice’, take the gauntlet that the band seem to have thrown themselves and run further with it than ever. But while Ulfilas’ Alphabet was an evolution, Kill Me feels more like a misstep.
Saying that, Kill Me gets off to a good start, with its eponymous opener seeing Pollock’s characteristic warble in full force over the top of pounding, propulsive drums and a gnarly guitar line during the chorus. Aside from some staccato strings, it’s the closest thing here to a Youth… song, and will please fans of their simpler, original blend of catchy hooks and rich instrumentation.
Elswhere, though, it’s a different story. ‘O Stranger’ follows up with a faux-dub bassline which sounds like something Flume rejected and a vocal line which is over-produced to within an inch of its life. The chorus is lush and expansive, and attempts to create the ‘organic’ feeling Pollock talks about with fluttering, flowery synths, but the whole thing feels cheap. It’s like the band have tried to build on the wrong aspects of their music, with the result sounding at once cliched and pompous; like continuously striving to push the envolop in terms of their sound has taken precidence over making music that the band actually means.
The same is true of most of the rest of the EP. ‘YOUR TOUCH’ is turgid; the production doesn’t do the dragging, bombastic drum line the justice it thinks it does. Meanwhile, Pollock’s vocal is less dynamic and inimitable, and more one-note. And the mess of the rest of the production drowns it out anyway. ‘Artifice’ is much the same. It boasts a voice track that’s over-distorted a la Bon Iver, and other electronic elements sandwiched between lilting guitar lines and busy production. It sounds like it’s actually two songs smashed together. While closer ‘Lifelines’ lifts the mood slightly, with rich, tropical production introducing Pollock’s sweetest vocal performance of the EP, it’s no consolation for the let down that Kill Me has turned out to be.
Sundara Karma’s music has always been either gut-punching and powerful or a whole lot of fun. Kill Me, with its grandiose subject-matter wrapped up inside its flamboyant electronic packaging, is neither. With Kill Me, the band has certainly taken another step away from their indie-pop roots in terms of style and musicality. And that progressive spirit is worthy of at least some praise. But they’ve also lost sight of what made them truly great to listen to in the first place. Here’s hoping they find their way back soon.
Kill Me is out today via Chess Club.