reviewed by ali burge - exeposé
- feb 04
it's quite a rare thing to be known as great bassist - i mean,
who remembers the bassist? they stand in the shadows and look
moody; it's just what bassists do. mick karn bucks this trend
like a tacky fair-ground ride. karn was the first member of japan
to have a solo record and more than 20 years later more better
different is as exciting as japan were in the late 70s. broadly
an avant-garde album, more better different really is a work of
art. all the tracks have a central core of karn's fretless bass
around which is weaved a fantastic tapestry of sounds. to call
this album ambient does it a huge disservice, but by its very
nature more better different is sublime mood music. at times beautiful
and strangely unnerving, karn has created something truly special.
reviewed by bill leigh - bass player - feb 04
karn has quietly remained one of the most distinctive bass voices
since his unusual fretless submelodies provided a strange yet
catchy foundation for '80s art-rock quartet japan. on his latest
solo effort, a ghostly and playful soundscape provides the perfect
backdrop for karn's idiosyncratic fretless approach, in which
oddly accented notes add a disjointed, angular quality to his
melodic swoops and smears.
reviewed by david sheppard - Q - feb 04
after david sylvian's icy croon, japan's signature sound came
courtesy of mick karn. an accomplished sculptor, he now flits
from project to project in unapologetic art dilettante style.
his first album since 2001's each eye a path, more better different
- whatever the grammar shredding title's implications - is more
of the same: by turns glacial and tropical synthscapes, dark percussive
grooves and plenty of bass guitar burble. amiable forgettable
for the most part, only atyan b-boot's sub bitches brew squelch,
or never thought's clarinet soaked noir ambiences linger. the
rest is workmanlike art noodle.
2 out of 5
reviewed by chris roberts - uncut - mar 04
twenty years on from japan, karn is still the bass players' bass
player, only a lot less dull than that might sound. his consistently
groundbreaking, idiosyncratic technique has bubbled and brooded
through a series of solo lps and "no 1 in the far east"
collaborations. this self-made slab of serenity sees him melding
guitars, clarinet, samples and spoken word in nine mood pieces
which swing from winningly funky ("the jump") to cinematic
noodling ("the end gag"). i can't imagine anyone into
eno, sylvian, talk talk or, for that matter, the better radiohead
tracks finding it less than transporting and beautifully optimistic.
4 out of 5
reviewed by shane blanchard - tastyfanzine.org.uk - may 04
it seems that poor invisible hands have received a bit of a
bashing in tasty in the past few months but bless 'em they've
finally sent us something which won't get a complete slagging.
ex-Japan bass player mick karn is apparently known as one of
the 'best bass guitar players in the world' due to his "highly
distinctive fretless bass sound". i didn't know that but
it would explain the rather weird whale noises which seem to punctuate
this album. there is an abundance of influences on the record
ranging from eastern european sounding folky riffs to electro
synth vibes but this firmly in the easy listening section at woolies.
i've listened to this album many times, sometimes on shuffle
play, sometimes straight through and i can honestly say i haven't
got a clue which songs are which. the very last track "great
day in the morning" seems to be tootling along quite nicely
when suddenly it just stops dead - end of album. but then maybe
that is its strength - perfect elevator music. now I'm just off
to have another listen...
reviewed by nick collings - alternative rock review - may 04
as bassist for 80s group japan, and post-japan an acclaimed solo
artist, mick karn is renowned for his "fretless bass sound"
and for collaborations with kate bush, joan armatrading, peter
murphy (bauhaus) and gary numan. with such an impressive cv, i
came into more better different with high expectation given karn's
rather than providing conventional rock songs, this is more structure-less
instrumentation from the dark reaches of karn's mind. influences
thrown by media-types at this record include eno, talk talk, later-day
radiohead and sylvian so you can get an idea where karn is coming
scattered with jazz sounds, moody bass-lines and atmospheric
ambiance, opener "the jump" sets the album up for what's
to come. "atyan b-boot" is all funky sounds and weird
effects that play like a soundtrack to an art-house film rather
than radio-fodder. there's quite a diverse range if instruments
used, so no simple set-up here; clarinets, effect pedal guitars,
various sampled noises and strange aphex twin type creepiness
dominate as on "it's his birthday this year" that makes
for uneasy listening for nocturnal beings.
by track four ("never thought") we finally hear some
spoken word that submerges underneath the sonic landscapes, and
on "the show" the pace quickens on a bombastic slice
of electronic doodling. in fact most tracks tread a similar path,
built upon a heavy bass and layered with samples and weird noises
without choruses, hooks or melody. "great day in the morning"
finishes off the album on a high note, for once a repetitive structure
that almost produces a hook and displays some deep, spiritual
iIf this sounds like the anti-pop record, then you'd be mistaken
as it flows quite nicely, there's nothing what I consider harsh
sounding or unlistenable. it's a suitable background accompaniment
than an album you would listen to in the foreground. imagine lying
in a darkened room cut off from the outside environment, an ambient
world for the unrestricted imagination that forefather eno once
made his own speciality.
reviewed by ed f - soundsxp.com - may 04
i had a bad feeling about this record from the start what
concerned me is that this is a solo effort from the man who played
bass in japan. the band japan, obviously, rather than the east
asian nation. but a bass player making a solo record? isn't that
like the triangle player leading an orchestra?
if i am being honest, what I was really hoping for was a whole
record of bass solo freakouts like cliff burtons masterpiece on
metallica's kill 'em all, or perhaps some captain birdseye ramblings
in the vein of primuss les claypool. i got neither; instead,
mick's bass gurgles like a babbling brook while atmospheric eno
kind of instrumentation and atmospheres ramble along in the background.
dated sounding first track "the jump" reminds me of
eno and byrne in my life in the bush of ghosts era, other moments
approaching the pomp of john michael jarre. If mick karn had performed
this on a laser harp while wearing white gloves, he might have
got away with it but sadly a lot of the record sounds like it
has been beaten by the late 80's stick.
as is probably not surprising, a lot of the song structures seem
to hang on the bass lines, and while pleasant enough there is
nothing on this record that hasn't been done before, and probably
better, by someone else. so the initial fears came to fruition
- bass players probably shouldn't be let loose in the studio.
reviewed by ? - babysue.com - may 04
exceptionally thought provoking instrumental music from japan
bassist mick karn. more better different features nine brilliantly
imaginative tracks that not only feature karn's precise bass technique,
but also shed light on his talents as a composer, producer, and
engineer. these tunes are heady and complex... and involve an
impressive assortment of instruments and sounds. while each cut
presents a different mood, the album holds together nicely as
a whole. the overall feel is slightly spooky and surreal with
lots of subtle electronics creeping in and out of the equation.
more better different is a highly rewarding album full of unusual
textures and obtuse rhythms. precisely entertaining cuts include
"the jump", "it's his birthday this year",
"the end gag" and "great day in the morning".
5 out of 6
reviewed by steve english - splendidezine.com - may 04
to most of the civilized world, mick karn is best remembered
as the bass player from art-rock glamsters japan. to fretless-bass
aficionados and new-romantic nancy boys, he's a minor deity --
a gifted multi-instrumentalist and world-music tourist whose sprawling
albums frequently boast more frantic noodling than a vietnamese
restaurant kitchen during the dinner rush.
fortunately, karn has managed to keep his work from descending
into full-on jazzbo wankery by penning compositions that test
his talents rather than flog them; following japan's breakup in
1982, he has dabbled in everything from jazz-fusion to hip-hop
to light drum and bass. since the turn of the century, though,
karn has settled on electronic experimentation as his preferred
creative avenue. on more better different, he explores similar
territory to 2001's cinematic each eye a path, only this time
with more emphasis on atmosphere than funky loops.
karn's current work is no less than a light year removed from
the stuff he was producing in japan, and is considerably more
evolved than even each eye a path. While his bass remains a fixture,
many of more better different's more filmic tracks are built around
creepy keys and claustrophobic samples. aside from the funky bounce
of opener "the jump", most of this material wouldn't
sound out of place in the murky world of barry adamson. "it's
his birthday this year" turns doomy bass rumbles and echoing
clicks and clacks into a soundtrack of creeping dread. the dire
chimes of "never thought" are ominous enough on their
own without karn's spooky goth-guy vocals, but his throaty poetry
adds an even darker layer to an already unsettling song. gentlemen
take polaroids this clearly ain't.
a couple of meandering exercises in the home stretch -- "pulsating
puddles" is a watery doodle, "great day in the morning"
a wobbly, repetitive atmosphere experiment -- make more better
different drag a bit. fortunately, karn's impressive compositional
talents and skill with a variety of instruments keep him from
falling off the wagon. "the show", a haphazard pile
of effects, sound fragments (including something that sounds like
a pitch-corrected dot-matrix printer) and head-nodding funk riffs,
sounds like a slapdash pastiche of odds and ends at first, but
dramatically twists and mutates into the cohesive six-minute piece
its author clearly intended from the start.
approach more better different with an open mind and extreme
caution -- playing it for your friends will make them marvel at
your discerning avant-garde ear, but mentioning karn's lipstick-and-leisure-suit
past might cost you your cool forever.
reviewed by john thrasher - leftoffthedial.com - jun 04
mick karn, the ex-bassist from the band japan, explores some
new territory in his recent solo release, more better different.
a solo album by a bassist sounds a little odd and one might be
tempted to think that the only plausible route to take is in the
direction of sting. karn does not go in this direction, rather
he eschews any semblance of pop structure in favor of rhythmically
tinged atmosphere pieces in the style of brian eno; but while
eno preferred to build his sound landscape using more repetition
and slight melodic counterpoint, karn relies more on his bass
rhythms to build his sound world. the comparison to eno is apt,
though, because karn's songs (if one can call them that), while
being extremely full of texture and interesting arrangements,
tend to feel more like atmospheric sketches, rather than dynamic,
fully-formed pieces. but this is also a criticism that could also
be leveled at eno, especially in his more ambient work.
as a producer of ambient soundscaping, however, mick karn excels.
the palette he uses to paint his pictures is wide and varied,
relying on a backbone of bass to build the background, but also
using many other elements such as pianos, computer electronics,
guitar, and even some interesting vocals to add detail and round
out his pieces. karn is also somewhat of a virtuoso, and while
not necessarily appealing to typical musical sensibilities, it
is always interesting to listen to a true virtuoso at work. karn's
virtuosity, however, is not primarily in his bass playing, but
rather in his production skills and his arrangements. so while
at times, this album can sound like a text-book on production
and arranging techniques, it is generally also interesting to
listen to for the pure joy of hearing an experiment come together
correctly. this album should not be reserved only for fans of
ambient music, but rather for fans of music without qualification.
reviewed by pete h - the-mag - jun 04
back in the early eighties mick karn was the bass player with
the successful art-pop group japan from which the singer, david
sylvian, became somewhat of an icon for the new-romantic movement
of the time. soon after japan broke up in 1982 mick released the
first of a series of solo albums showcasing his talents on bass,
saxophone, keyboards and synthesisers. in between solo albums
karn collaborated with the likes of midge ure and david tom; carried
out session work for kate bush and joan armatrading (to name but
a few); formed dalis car with former bauhaus singer pete murphy;
and embarked on a parallel career as a sculptor, exhibiting works
in japan, italy and london.
coming from independent label invisible hands, more better different
is karn's latest album on which he not only plays all of the instruments
but also took on the production duties. in short a virtual one-man
album, which unfortunately allows him no escape from the blame
that must be applied for the clearly over inflated title. however,
this aside, karn has come up with a dark, moody, yet playful album
which is has its anchor somewhere near the category of ambient
jazz (err...if there is such a category).
as you would expect it is Karn's distinctive bass sound which
is the predominant force throughout the album, leaving the guitar,
clarinet, keyboards, samples and even the vocals to create the
often sinister, and constantly moving, backdrop. for those not
familiar karn's fretless bass sound just imagine the sort of twang
you would expect bass strings to make if they were made out of
rubber and you'll be somewhere near there.
the album's highlights are plenty. however, those that stand
out include "the jump" with its contrast of funky and
sub-aqua like bass melodies imposed upon a ghostly synthscape.
"atyan b-boot" with its wah guitar, 80's style science
fiction soundtrack (including samples from what seems to be a
sub-space distress call from beagle 2). The menacing "it's
his birthday this year" including that old sample favourite
of the twangy ruler against the desk and the hauntingly happy
bass melodies of "the end gag".
basically, more better different attempts to live up to its title
due to the sheer artistic approach karn has applied to his album.
conformity is certainly not an element that has been considered
as each track has been carefully sculptured to produce deep atmospheric
soundscapes with the occasional uplifting, jolly melody. in layman's
terms the end result is that the whole thing sounds something
akin to the james taylor quartet, lost in space with only some
quality 1960's lsd for company, i.e. those with a firm grasp of
reality and a linear stream of thought need not apply.
"different", definitely but "better", probably
not as ultimately more better different is really nothing more
then pleasantly enjoyable sonic wallpaper.
5 out of 10
reviewed by richard williams - popmatters.com - jul 04
first and foremost, mick karn is an aural artist. he also maintains
a successful profile as an expressive and original sculptor, which
provides further insight into the visionary nature of his artistic
development, but it is his passion for music that has dominated
his career. one of a small handful of brand-name new romantics
who evolved beyond the constraints of pop music even before the
scene was over (see also midge ure, mark hollis, and karn's compatriot/nemesis
from japan, david sylvian), karn's output makes an appropriate
backdrop for galleries and installations, yet remains dramatic
enough to distinguish itself from the sonic wallpaper qualities
of more typical ambient music. the title more better different
summarizes the ways in which the expectations for yet another
mick karn record (his ninth) can be defied or surpassed, and as
such it announces one of the better music-for-art's-sake records
released in a long while. but just as visual artists aren't always
expected to use new media to render something previously unknown,
karn reuses common tools in distinct new methods to express something
as he began honing his artistic approach long ago when japan
was disbanded in 1982, and has since found his particular voice,
mick karn is content to further deepen and explore his individual
strengths. he is simply the most accomplished and recognizable
bassist to emerge from the new wave era, and his melodic, liquid
fretless bass work is the trademark that marks him as a legend.
despite the positive enhancements of funky rhythms, moody woodwinds,
and computerized effects that sophisticate the pieces while widening
their accessibility, the organic framework of the record - the
muscle, bone, and nervous system combined - thankfully remains
karn's stellar bass playing. and while more better different also
contains agreeable nods to recent trends in electronic music -
"the end gag" feels like a less beat-driven röyksopp,
while "pulsating puddles" has the same quivery, slightly
processed sound as amnesiac-era radiohead, in which natural voices
and unaffected instruments can almost, but not quite, be recognized
through the otherworldly weirdness - the record primarily stands
out of time. as with other artists not content to play the games
of the music industry, including david sylvian and brian eno,
karn's artistry remains unrestricted and pure.
the album initially showcases easy-going funk and jazz elements
for the first few tracks (karn is a bassist, after all), but all
of these are dissimilar and memorable. for example, "atyan
b-boot" features a vocoded snippet, played forward and backward,
as its primary hook, providing a surprisingly inhuman twist while
propelling the piece into its own subgenre, such as science-fiction
funk. though the end result is not far removed from eno's early
'90s recordings, karn differs from eno in that eno's approach
is as important as the final product; he spends as much time,
if not more, overanalyzing and developing the intellectual processes
he utilizes. karn is not just an artist, but also a musician -
unlike eno. and as complex and unpretentious as more better different
ultimately sounds, karn appears to have constructed these pieces
at least somewhat instinctively, with 30 years of training behind
the remainder of the record focuses on atmospheric mood pieces,
some akin to japan's later work (but prior to rain tree crow).
in fact, a couple of the numbers, namely the uplifting closer
"great day in the morning" and the appropriately-titled
centerpiece "the show", are so similar to fully-developed
japan pieces that they suggest karn's songwriting role in japan
during its heyday might have been greater than david sylvian would
admit. at other times, karn's compositions are strictly his own.
"wishy-washy wishing", the most cinematic and conventional
of the pieces here, has an almost classical structure to its musical
themes, recalling both the instrumental work of early-'80s tuxedomoon
and a variety of bbc or pbs miniseries soundtracks. the album's
one misstep is the smoky, guttural spoken bit on the otherwise
aimlessly despondent "never thought". although the vocal
gives the track a much-needed anchor, as the bassline is alternately
too noodly or subtle to grasp, the lyrics demonstrate poetry to
be the one artistic area in which karn does not excel.
ultimately, the record is a tasteful and attractive example of
what mick karn has to offer; it emphasizes his mastery of all
that he has tried before, yet never obscures his obvious gift
as a bass player. when placed in the context of his musical career,
it may feel like just another addition to his impressive oeuvre,
though if translated into a visual arena, more better different
would feature the sharpest colors, the most alluring textures,
and the most striking compositions in the gallery. its addition
raises the caliber of the whole show.
reviewed by jason ziemniak, - adequacy.net - aug 04
mick karn is best known for his highly distinctive fretless bass
sound. his contribution to the iconic japan gave the band a unique
sound, and by the time of tin drum, he was dubbed one of the best
bass players in the world. after japan broke up in the mid-1980s,
karn was the first member to have a solo album and furthermore
collaborated with a diverse crowd of musicians including gary
numan, jan garberek, peter murphy, kate bush, and joan armatrading.
eschewing collaborators on more better different, karn plays
all instruments on the album including wal bass guitar, guitar,
bass clarinet, keyboards, samples, and vocals - as well as producing
the effort. unfortunately this allows him no escape from the blame
that must be applied for the clearly over-inflated title. however,
he has created music that is dark and moody, often built around
a bass groove combined with innovative instrumentation and a sense
i really enjoyed mick karn's first post-japan albums (titles
and dreams of reason produce monsters) as well as some his later
funk/jazz fusion stuff with david torn and others. this album
starts off as quite an upbeat affair, with an ethno-funk feel,
but then descends into ambient meandering buoyed up by karn's
trademark fretless bass. The best track is "the show,"
which features some glitchy and spooky electronics and some excellent
the album drags at the end with "pulsating puddles"
as a bass-led ambient piece that goes nowhere and "great
day in the morning," which is in need of an editing as it
is too repetitive.
karn may be a master bassist, but his lyric writing skills need
to be improved, especially his rhyme schemes, which are strictly
of the junior-high poetry variety. the songs are much more enjoyable
when they stay instrumental, or perhaps this is where a collaborator
could have been used.
more better different is not karn's best work, and i'd advise
you to look elsewhere if you want to get into his music (either
the albums i've mentioned above or the mick karn collector's edition),
but if you like mick karn already, then this is still worth a