I have long been a fan of trip-hop. Living in England in the mid-90s, Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Archive, and others were constantly going in the down-tempo clubs and in my headphones. As such, I was excited to receive the new disc, Eternal, from Karmacoda, billing itself as a logical progression from those luminaries. Sadly, this disc does not live up to its billing.
The disc opens well, with the first track carrying an echoey bass line and haunting piano riff that would perfectly accompany Beth Gibbons or Tricky. The vocals, however, are not anywhere near as haunting, as ethereal, as those of the trip hop masters. Indeed, while trip hop is undeniably about more than simply a voice, one cannot help but notice the incredible difference the voices of Karmacoda make vis-à-vis the voices of trip hop stalwarts. To the disappointment of this listener, Karmacoda tends far more closely to basic pop structures and sounds. In the ears of this listener, oddly, were echoes of Roxette (disclosure: I used to love Roxette; the comparison is not an insult, but definitely not what I would seek in trip hop), Melanie C (once of Spice Girls fame), hints of Madonna, and perhaps Brazilian Girls (though without the exoticism or ear-catching lyrics of the Girls). Sadly, the dark hints evident in the first track largely disappear for the rest of the album, with the notable exception of the ear-catching “Love Will Turn Your Head Around.” Indeed, that song is arguably the gem of the album, dark, languid, and teasingly dangerous sounding: in short, everything a trip hop song should, in the ears of this listener, be.
One could argue that trip hop as it stood in the mid-90s simply should stay in the past, and that Karmacoda is an evolution of that sound. However, other bands disprove that point: to wit Halou and arguably the Thievery Corporation, and others have beautifully picked up the trip hop banner, regardless whether they carry it explicitly. Further, the sound of trip hop was, this author would argue, too distinct to simply evolve; it may have been representative of only a moment in time, but to compare oneself too closely to that moment demands literal comparison. In short, as a pop album, Eternal is fine, but not a standout. As a trip hop album, it is disappointing.