Arguably one of the best electronic pop albums from the last five years, it managed to maintain a balance of quirky, original songs, wrapped up in a production template that kept synth fans happy, but with also nods to contemporary sonics too.
Tracks such as ‘Thousand Loaded Guns’ and ‘Fryngies’ even brought KARIN PARK to the attention of GARY NUMAN, who chose her as support on one of his UK tours. There must be an element of frustration in the Park camp that she hasn’t broken on a wider scale by now, on paper she has everything, astonishing model looks, a fantastic and charismatic live show (with her brother David accompanying her on drums) and with ‘Highwire Poetry’, an album that easily held its own against her contemporaries such as ROBYN, THE KNIFE and BJÖRK (comparisons which she’s probably getting tired of by now!).
This brings us to Park’s fifth album and second for Portsmouth-based label State of the Eye: ‘Apocalypse Pop’. The temptation would have probably been to stick with the format that worked so well on album four, but Park’s new set of songs has a distinctly different sound and vibe to them. The overall tone and production on ‘Apocalypse Pop’ is much more edgy both from a sonic point of view (distortion and rock dynamics are more prevalent here) and with some of the lyrical content (more on that later). If anything, the overall sound of this album is more homogenized and cohesive than the last, but this is not necessarily a good thing, with many of the tracks taking several listens to hit home, the stylistic mish-mash of immediate songs which filled ‘Highwire Poetry’ is to a large degree missing here.
Opening track and single ‘Look What You’ve Done’ sets the tone, each sound has been overdriven including Park’s vocals and the track bounces along to the familiar 6/8 Schaffel beat which has been used by everybody from DEPECHE MODE to RACHEL STEVENS. Another previously released single ‘Shine’ follows next, its understated feel adding to the rollercoaster feel of the album (one moment you’re up, the next you’re down).
‘Stick To The Lie’ follows a more traditional electronic format with its driving sequencers and arpeggiators and is far better for it, lyrically it also connects far more successfully, with Park injecting its “truth… hurts like a sharp knife” hook with real emotion. ‘Daemons’ is the real Marmite track on the album, Park bearing her soul with the “I know I’ve been a c***” lyric, whereas musically and vocally, the chorus takes the track into decidedly unwelcome R’n’B territory. Final track ‘Hurricane’ lifts things tempo-wise and has a wonderful elastic / portamento bass sound and finishes proceedings in a more hypnotic/dance manner, Park sharing lead vocals with Thomas Knights from UK act PANDORA DRIVE.
The darker and more understated feel throughout has undoubtedly been informed by the illness of Park’s partner last year. This is not a bad album, but in places, it treads water rather than taking the standards previously set to a higher level. ‘Stick To The Lie’ is easily the most immediate track here and should act as the in point for fans of Park’s previous work. Meanwhile, the use of explicit language misfires badly, nobody really wants to hear the ‘C’ word in an electronic pop record and in many ways it seems to suggest that Park and her collaborators are trying a little too hard here to get themselves noticed.
For maybe a little too long now, KARIN PARK has been electronic pop’s best kept secret, and she certainly warrants a much larger demographic than what’s she’s achieved so far. Hopefully ‘Apocalypse Pop’ will help maintain the momentum she has generated and she will get a wider degree of success that she so richly deserves.
‘Apocalypse Pop’ is released by State Of The Eye Recordings on CD, download and vinyl.
Text by Paul Boddy
13th April 2015