Chris Karman, the cosmic wizard behind the deliciously spacey Historian, ponders if he just may be a dying breed. One of the standout songs on his recent release, Spiral Again, “Dying Breed” represents a curiously removed deep dive into personal nightmare territory. Singing in his signature liquid vocal intonations of empty sidewalks and parking lots, questions such as “Am I so obsolete?” ring with a cerebral horror that goes far beyond base metaphysical musings. He is convinced the surrounding lights are closing in. “I am stolen out of another time”. Echoes of Brian Wilson “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” existential angst just drip from this track.
Unlike the majority of his L.A. brethren, Historian doesn’t do poppy sun drenched surf rock. This native Californian, who has only lived in the sunshine state, favors Eno-esque languid sound design in addition to to 45 RPM vintage goodness. His dark-electronica-meets-Leonard Cohen-in-the-darkest-of-alleys music feels as if it stumbles the side streets of Berlin, not Silverlake. Indeed, the day I spoke with him the weather imbued a Euro-winter tint; deep gray skies, hanging clouds with the dark possibility of rain. We spoke about his desire to craft songs with depth and heft that set him apart, almost in his own ambiguous category.
“I have a tendency to spin out mentally and ruminate over things,” Karman explains. “Spiral Again is really my attempt at capturing the feeling I get, alone in the middle of the night. There’s an air of mystery, sadness, longing and tinge of joy. It’s a fairly indescribable moment that I feel I was able to tap and sustain for an entire record.”
Spiral Again is music music only for the restless and insouciant, the haunted but unafraid. Historian packs emotional angst into soft spaces, but the lyrics are never sugar coated. Take the story being told in “Small Lines”. “I just can’t just ignore it. I can’t live here anymore. The walls have been torn out”. I spoke with Chris. Here is a track that expresses the need for more of an emotional relocation than a physical change of address.
rattles with tinges of nostalgia and regret. The loss of a friend to suicide led to him feeling guilty that he didn’t let the friend play with the band. He had misgivings, and soon after the friend sadly took his own life. In an effort of resurrection karma, his band was able to watch a a different friend kick a mighty heroin habit. Some tracks are perfectly titled. Going into “Loss For Words” or “Into The Ether”, you know exactly what you’re in for before the songs begin.
Spiral Again was crafted to be “the space rock equivalent to Springsteen’s Nebraska.” Indeed, Karman keeps the sparse vibe of that record but ditches the narratives, getting all sorts of aloof on songs that don’t need to rely on linear trajectory, drifting on like shape shifters on an unexplored periphery.
The name “Historian” does have some meaning, however, sicne it relates to Karman’s extensive knowledge or multiple musical genres. At a stint as a music “critic” for Treble, he learned how to dig deep into albums, crafting some of the most extensive deep dive reviews you will stumble across, before rightly deciding that creating art will always be more satisfying than critiquing it. But he still uses his critic trick of listening to any song he creates 11 times in order to decide if it’s working. That 11th listen seals the deal. Yay or Nay. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the launch and land of Apollo 11, the number holds an even greater significance as Historian brings his spaced-out sounds to the inner realms of an increasing amount of listeners. Float along.