Henderson/Oken – “Dream Theory In The IE” (Firepool Records 2011, FR003)

Mike Henderson & Chuck Oken Jr are both founding members of the long-lived Calfornia based Rock-Prog-Ambient-Psych band Djam Karet. Dream Theory In The IE (IE stands for The Inland Empire, a geographic region of Southern California) is a new album on Djam Karet’s Firepool Record label that distills 6 hours worth of improvised music from three live shows recorded late last year down to this 7 track CD. While some effects like reverb, delay and EQ were added during mastering, no overdubs or edits were used, providing the listener with the live experience as heard during the performances. Henderson and Oken utilize acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel guitar, analog & digital keyboards, digital drums & percussion, effects, loops and sampling to create atmospheric excursions that will appeal to fans of Djam Karet’s more ambient/soundscape side, though there is much in the way of melody and rhythm in the music.

The set opens with Alive Enough?, which combines melodic acoustic guitar patterns with beautiful whining Fripp/Pinhas-like electric guitar-scapes, plus soft atmospheric keyboards and assorted bits of sound. As the piece develops the electric guitar gets more assertive, with brief solo runs and winding acidic chords wrapping around the listener’s brain. Forgotten Spirits is a light, bouncy mix of playful rhythmic pulse and world music percussion, around which mind-bending guitar licks explore. I love the way Henderson and Oken combine acoustic and variously efx’d electric guitar. There’s also some cool classic Prog sounding keyboards, which I suspect might possibly be guitar. Deeper Waters features the sound of running water, bells, textural percussion, acoustic guitar, and though the electric guitar licks nearly scream, this is a peacefully serene mood focused track that drew me into a meditative state. In marked contrast is the tension laded title track, with its freaky alien effects, threatening guitar, off-kilter percussion, and abrupt and intense thematic twists and turns. This very much reminds me of Djam Karet at their more atmospheric. Zombie Attack is next… everybody loves zombies, right? I sure do and couldn’t wait to hear what this track would sound like. Sure enough, it starts off sounding like John Carpenter doing the soundtrack for a George Romero flick, aided by Djam Karet styled guitars and atmospherics. As the music progresses it starts to rock out hard, with some of the heaviest drumming I’ve heard on the album yet. Yup, Mike and Chuck have scored their own mini zombie movie. When All The Birds Die Away conjures up images of wandering through a forest on some planet, somewhere out there, and the busy sounds of nature, piano, soundscape guitar, moody spaced out synth lines and light orchestral atmospherics make for a pleasant stroll through an alien landscape.

The first six tracks are in the 7-12 minutes range, but the finale, John Henry Changes The Rules, is a 25 minute piece that includes some of the most song-like melodies on the album. It begins with an almost motoric rhythm, yet flows along smoothly. But of course we move through a number of thematic shifts. I especially enjoyed the spacey, quirky angelic segment propelled by steady drumming. Overall the music has a playful feel, while being as exploratory and sound focused as the rest of the album. In summary, this is an enjoyable set of soundscape/atmospheric/mood creation, with creative use of acoustic and electric guitars, effects and keys. Put on the headphones, surrender, and enjoy all the images the music stimulates in your mind. I would have loved to have been at one of the live performances.

For more information you can visit http://www.djamkaret.com

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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