“In my child mind I would like to reside,” muses Stanley Belton on the second single of Black Market Karma’s newest album, Aped Flair and Hijacked Ideas, “… but it’s always soured by adult brains.” The track articulates the feelings of nostalgia and the longing for escape that permeate the English band’s tenth LP. Meshing together the vibrant, optimistic pop of The Beach Boys and raw psychedelic rock, it’s an album of glittering science fiction and rosy, fairground-ride innocence. And it’s one of the band’s most accessible so far.
Debuting in 2012, Black Market Karma released eight albums in the space of five years, from the heavy, churning alt-rock of Easy Listening, through the diversion into Indian music on Semper Fi, to the colourful psychedelia of Animal Jive.
The band returned last year with the looser, more spacey album, The Technicolour Liquid Audio Machine. Aped Flair and Hijacked Ideas continues that album’s tranquil mood and charming, naïve tone, but swaps cooling electronics and expansive instrumentals for hard, jangling guitars and bright 60s pop-inspired melodies.
The album bursts into life with lead single Dead Trajectory’s rich tangle of twinkling guitars. Although the band bring as full and powerful a sound as ever, Belton’s more precise arrangements allow for more light in the mix than some of the dense, rumbling dirges of his early work. The crisp, jangly Kodama brings to mind The Beatles’ Help! and Rubber Soul, with its cheerful, catchy riff. Even Jumble Jumble, which brings a crushing wall of thick, murky guitars, still manages to feel uplifting rather than oppressive.
Tracks such as Urchin and A Crying Shame are glazed in rose-tinted nostalgia and cushioned in a humid haze of what sounds like synthesised recorder and flute. Likewise, Cadet #2187 has a comforting simplicity to its chiming ostinato, as Belton fantasising about escaping mundane reality: “I just might leave the human race / I’ll live in outer space / wear a brand new face.”
Kong brings the album back down to Earth with a reassuring, if a little monotonous, plodding riff, before the nine-minute epic Ace’s Trip through the Cosmic Ether closes the album out with a return to the band’s darker, more mature psych-rock sound.
While sometimes verging on stifling and overly quaint, Black Market Karma’s cerebral tenth project is an impressive display of Belton’s infinitely versatile musicianship and vivid illustrations of the human imagination.