Karl Blau – Zebra

January 01, 1970





Blau plays all the instruments on Zebra,
yet the album never succumbs to the syndrome of some one-man band recordings,
where a musician tries to pass song sketches off as actual songs by overdubbing
numerous instruments over a simple riff and calling it a song. Granted some of
the songs are built around a single groove, but Blau gives dimension to them by
adding melody variations to the vocals, dropping some instruments in and out
and utilizing odd combinations of instruments. His keyboard choices buzz with
vintage sounds, with wheezy bass lines that sound a stylophone, the hand-held
device that David Bowie immortalized on Space
. The drum sound in
“Apology to Pollinateurs” almost feels pre-programmed, which makes the entry of
surf guitar stand out against the groove. The track sounds like it’s going to
ride by on a simple riff, but Blau throws in a simple chord change that breaks
it up in a beautifully dreamy way. To top it off, things climax when an instrument
that sounds like the Indian double reed the shehnai drops in for some strange whining as the song fades out.


addition to all the music, Blau cuts an interesting path as a vocalist. He
frequently sounds like Beck (who also recorded for K way back when) or Lou
Barlow. The latter voice similarity comes across in “Free the Bird” which has
the same yearning quality that Sebadoh had in their prime era. Blau isn’t
opposed to a cornball falsetto backing when the mood calls for it either.
Whether it was Blau’s complete vision or the inspiration of working at Dub
Narcotic Studios, Zebra sounds like a fully realized set of music, including
the throwaway closing track with its endless backwards vocals (“Shovel Song”).


Standout Tracks: “Waiting
for the Wind,” “Free the Bird”  MIKE SHANLEY


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