Carpet, Elysian Pleasures: Spielt mit den Atomen

You could teach a college class on the influences under which Carpet work. Sounding here like John Lennon fronting Adrian Belew-era King Crimson and there meandering into Floydian ambience offset by fuzzy heavy rock guitar work, the German progressive heavy rock foursome’s Elektrohasch-released sophomore outing, Elysian Pleasures, is rigorously plotted and technically accomplished. Like its cover, it is a collage, ably skirting the line of giving itself over to instrumental explorations, but never quite losing focus entirely on songwriting. This works markedly to the favor of tracks like “Elysian Pleasures,” “In Tides,” “Serpentine” and “For the Love of Bokeh,” though with richly varied parts throughout, each of the eight cuts seems to find its standout moment one way or another in the album’s total 49 minutes. The Augsburg/Munich outfit — Maximilian Stephan (guitar, vocals, clarinet, Mellotron, minimoog), Jakob Mader (drums, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, percussion), Sigmund Perner (Rhodes, grand piano, organ, accordion, Mellotron) and Hubert Steiner (bass) — split the songs into two sides even on the CD version of the album, and in line with the vinyl available in yellow or black with a poster and “Elysian Pleasures Textbook” lyric sheet, the individual pieces that make up the record work well with that construction, despite a linear flow that surfaces over the course of the CD taken as a whole. Such winds up being inevitable, since if the listener is going to be sucked into Carpet‘s world at all, it’s going to happen at the start, and with the variety of instrumentation the band utilize at any given moment, they establish a wide base early on, requiring the listener to keep a likewise open mind. The xylophone, in other words, appears with no delay. It practically opens the record, as a matter of fact, with Mader and Stephan announcing the arrival of Elysian Pleasures as a telling bit of fanfare plays out in the first 30 seconds. Like the best traditional prog, Carpet are patient and require a patient audience, but they do well in establishing a balance between what’s satisfying for them to play and still accessible for someone hearing it, which isn’t something that can be said across the board of the genre.

The King Crimson elements strike quickly, a bed of subtle noodling on guitar backing Stephan‘s echoing vocals as “Elysian Pleasures” begins to unfold. Ambient, jazzy and richly textured, the opener is a decent but not all-telling lead-in for the Carpet debut that shares its name, sounding modern in its production and classic in its ideology while a heavier tension lurks just below the surface later into the track as Mader rides his crash cymbal while Perner plays out the central melody on keys. It is busy from the word go and remains busy even in its quiet stretches. A subdued finish for “Elysian Pleasures” lulls the listener into a false sense of security as “Nearly Four” snare-pops its way in with a fuzzy guitar-led strut and vocals buried beneath the progression, all instruments headed in the same place anchored by Steiner for a section of insistent and showy crashes. Of course, they take the initial idea and run with it like gleeful children — half of the appeal of progressive rock is imagining how much fun the person playing it is having — but return to the main riff near the halfway mark, realizing perhaps that not every song needs to be an indulgence. Stephan is no less an able vocalist than he is a guitarist, his voice smooth and engaging before he and Perner trade solos, his own leading to a stop that once again brings back the main figure before organ closes out the proceedings and “Man Changing the Atoms” revives the Belewery,¬†Mader taking the fore for a time to lead an instrumental section of jazz complemented by trumpet (credited to Andreas Unterreiner) in one of Elysian Pleasures‘ jazziest and most singularly enjoyable stretches. It seems to just happen — one minute Carpet are headed one way, then they turn, decide they like this better and that’s all there is to it. It’s a flagrant — almost arrogant — casting off of structure, and it could easily fall flat, but it doesn’t, and they smoothly work “Man Changing the Atoms” to an excitingly heavy build, saxophone (courtesy of Jan Kiesewetter) joining the fracas as it peaks with crashes, and just when the verse seems most like a thing of the past, vocals arrive again and renew the initial spirit of the track. Did that just happen? But for some resonant Mellotron and bass tension, it’s hard to be sure. Past six minutes in, they pick up again and end “Man Changing the Atoms” big, so it’s fitting the modus so far that “In Tides” should start quiet. And it does.

Closing out side A with a patient build, Carpet show a bit of Beatlesy invention in the vocal melody at the start, guitar and bass and keys and percussion establishing a line at about 2:30 that introduces a heavier crunch not unlike that of “Nearly Four” tonally, Stephan at his most Lennonesque as he invokes karma around three minutes in. With this new heft in hand, they do what they’ve done all along, which is to build on it, play off it, ride it out, and until about 4:30, that’s how it goes, but “In Tides” finishes quiet, sweet, melodic and bright, which makes the foreboding grand piano that opens “Serpentine” all the more of a contrast. But for the closer, “For the Love of Bokeh,” which tops 13 minutes, the songs are by and large shorter on the second half of Elysian Pleasures, in the three-to-four-minute range instead of topping five or six as did “Man Changing the Atoms,” “Elysian Pleasures” and “In Tides.” “Serpentine” does indeed bring about some darker atmospherics, but Carpet are never quite fully adherent to a single idea, and so as the vocals come in — clarinet layered in with the rest — there are psychedelic elements at work as well. Mader thuds out what seems like it’s going to be the basis for a full-on heavy run, but they turn the expectation upside down in reviving the xylophone (symmetry with “Elysian Pleasures” opening side A) and decide to take the progression for a weirdo prog walk instead, adding some stomping crash eventually, but never as full tonally as one might expect them to get, instead adding to the overall scope of the album with the instrumental nerd-out. That vibe continues with the ambient opening of the instrumental “Bird’s Nest.”¬†They stay quiet for a long time until they can’t seem to take it anymore, then unveil a distorted stretch before retiring with that same pots-and-pans feel they had at the start, almost like the break in “Moonchild” from In the Court of the Crimson King. Their timing as impeccable as ever, the shortest and simplest cut, “Smoke Signals,” follows in island flavor at a meager 3:13, easily melodic and filled out by horns, keys and acoustic guitar with a laid back feel that leads almost directly into the circus waltz of “For the Love of Bokeh,” the acoustics staying for a moment, but giving way soon to a more electrified thrust. Carpet are all resonant joy as they round out the Elysian Pleasures finale, each member expressing same almost in turn as the track plays out.

The song itself finds a big rock finish near 7:30, but continues with organ and other key-based atmospherics, finally resurfacing with a scale progression on bass, then xylophone, then the rest. A last-minute swell of organ makes a curiously loud ending to the album, perhaps just intended to draw the listener back to conscious attention before sending them on their way, but by then, it matters little. If you weren’t going to be on board with what Carpet were bringing to the table sonically, likely you wouldn’t have made it that far to start with. For everyone else, Elysian Pleasures might come across as something of a surprise at first for an Elektrohasch release — the label so focused in recent years on fostering Europe’s heavy psych underground — but with repeat listens, the connections are easily enough made, and with the cohesive sensibilities Carpet present, particularly for this being their debut, there’s little mystery at what would have attracted the label’s attention. It may take a few listens to grow on ears expecting fuzzier fare, but I guess that’s part of the reason why Elysian Pleasures comes with a textbook. It’s a solid learning experience all around.

Carpet, Elysian Pleasures (2013)

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2 Responses to “Carpet, Elysian Pleasures: Spielt mit den Atomen”

  1. Harvey Mee says:

    Dude, it has been a few years since I discovered the Obelisk, and with it some amazing bands. I’m not really one who orders albums and stuff, but I am needing this album now. What a mindblower

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