Kaboom Karavan :: Hokus Fokus (Miasmah)

Hokus Fokus successfully subverts one’s preconceptions of what qualifies as an enjoyable noise, managing to be approachable and challenging in equal measure.

There are three signature artists currently releasing through Erik K. Skodvin’s Miasmah imprint that, taken together, perfectly embody the full spirit of the label. Kreng takes the honorary number one spot as the most devilish and atmospheric of the lot, whilst the musical collages of the manic and monstrously schizophrenic Gultskra Artikler take the prize for the weirdest. The third and, until now most under-represented on the label is Bram Bosteels’ ambitious Kaboom Karavan project that, whilst certainly no stranger to the bizarre, dark and brooding, has a distinctly different take on the genre.

Although 2011’s Barra Barra was not Kaboom Karavan’s debut album, it was the first for Miasmah, a murky affair filled with grimy, dank textures and a twisted mise-en-scene that amply extolled Bosteel’s Dada-ist tendencies and evocative visions of a dark, intangible underworld. That this third outing for the Karavan is primarily the work of Bosteels alone is quite astonishing given that it was originally a “collective” of sorts featuring manifold contributions from a host of artists.

Indeed Hokus Fokus begins as it means to go on, by confounding expectations with an opening track of murky and atmospheric Miasmah-meets-Sonic Pieces modern classical in the vein of Deaf Center, Erik Skodvin or Gareth Davis. Vibrato strings meander through a thick field-recorded haze to the incessant squeak and scrape of twisted metal, forging an opening movement as darkly beautiful as anything the aforementioned artists are capable of at the top of their game.

The image on the cover of Hokus Fokus is as full of counterpoint and confusion as the album itself: a childlike, deformed and clearly female humanoid figure in a blue cape sits on the edge of a crudely dug hole (that may or may not be its home) clutching with painted clawed hands what could be a large stick of rock or a twirling cane as it grins slyly at the onlooker.

Where Barra Barra had us creeping through the gothic horrors of the pitched up Karavan, at dead of night, this time we’re cordially invited to attend the vivid, visceral spectacle Kaboom Karavan has to offer. The churning clatter, guitar thrum, tremulous strings and clumsy horns of “Omsk” lead you past tumbledown stalls and through stifling, flyblown tents to a stage upon which a diminutive, mud-caked figure emits a guttural, rasping noodling and humming as he/she/it performs of a sort of Netherworldly folk song.

The settings and moods swing wildly from such intimate moments to the peripheral or confused, “Lovzar” almost lost in a crowd cheering and applauding at hunched, tatterdemalion jesters capering and gamboling through the throng in some diabolical routine. There’s no shortage of sanity-threatening spectacle and goose-bump raising horror, in fact, as emaciated and pallid white figures wail in chorus to a horrid, glutinous plopping in “Kartoon Kannibal,” playing out like a tortured opera beamed directly from Hades. There’s even a couple of almost comical moments. The twisted orchestral tune up “En Avant!” features parping tubas, party horns and various other dubious sounds possibly emanating from places best not mentioned or contemplated. Feral human-raven hybrids squawk and scratch at detuned acoustic guitars, torturing a horrid oompa-loompa theme from their instruments in “The A Theme” and “Sartoris” goes all animated sixties movie credits in a surprise about turn in mood.

Kaboom Karavan albums are not an easy listen by any means, but they are so full of character that it requires very little work on behalf of the listener to fully succumb to their charms. With Hokus Fokus Bosteels successfully subverts one’s preconceptions of what qualifies as an enjoyable noise, managing to be approachable and challenging in equal measure.

If you’ve warmed to the Kaboom Karavan sound, it’s also worth knowing that Miasmah have reissued Kaboom Karavan’s debut album A Short Walk With Olaf on vinyl for the first time, thus completing the Karavan discography under one label in typical, completist Miasmah fashion.

Hokus Fokus is available on Miasmah.

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