Slow Poison: Karma 64

Karma 64 front cover Slow Poison might be a new band on the scene, but in no way they are newcomers: it consists of Chris "ArpMeister" Abbott of BIT fame, and the other folks at the keyboards and sequencers are DJ Boz and MC Kenz. (I am not making their names up: I am simply repeating what the CD sleeve says.) The name of the band is inspired by another SID remix band, Instant Remedy. Instant vs. Slow, Remedy vs. Poison - get it?

The title of the album is a nod towards one of the newest synthetizers out there, the innovative Korg Karma. When I first played with a Karma in my local synth shop I was so impressed with it, I almost bought it on the spot. Chris actually bought it - and he made this album with it. It influenced this album so much they actually named it after this synth.

I was really looking forward to slide this CD into its place amongst the other SID remix albums on my CD rack - but I can't. Why? Because this CD comes in a DVD box!!! What's up with that? Is this the newest fashion trend, packaging CD albums into DVD boxes? When I first saw it I thought Slow Poison created a music video or something...

The cover art of the DVD box is quite funny, but personally I would've prefered the alternative version with the psychdelic framing that can be found on the CD-extra track. Because besides 16 covers this CD also contains a data track. Unfortunately, don't expect an elaborate user interface here. As Chris jokingly admits it, Karma's data portion was done in an afternoon after pub, and it shows. To its credit, though, it does contain the fantastic Trap 2 demo (or rather, music video) created by Steve Barrett and alternate versions of the audio tracks, which provide an interesting insight into the creative process of Slow Poison.

So, how about the other 16 tracks, the actual remixes? In short, most of them are quite amazing, but it's an album for people with short attention spans. Only the last two tracks are longer than 5 minutes and much of the rest is less than 4 minutes long. Let's go through them one by one:

01. Ocean Loader V2 (Remix by O2 w/ help from Marcel Donne) - A bit of Jarre- like bass going on in the tune, and it also ends with Jarre-like trills. It's a nice start for the album, it immediately sets the mood.

02. Miami Vice - This would be a typical ambient track, but it gets thumping drums and an earth-shattering bass here, which is no surprise, because this track was originally composed for the Back In Time Live club event - but I don't really like it. And this just goes on and on and on in the tune - it gets boring pretty fast.

03. Delta Victory - Delta must be Chris Abbott's most favorite game soundtrack, because some Delta tune is seemingly featured on every album he produced so far - or maybe it's just dead easy to remix? :) A quite pleasant cover, albeit a bit short. (But as Chris told me, it probably would've been boring if it was any longer.)

04. Wizball - A relatively average track on the album, somewhat flat and unappealing to my ears. It doesn't really have any character. Some of the drum sequences in it are pretty cool, though.

05. Ocean Loader v4 - Aarrgh, another cover built on a stomping base, because - you guessed it - it's another cover created for BIT Live! The stomping base makes it danceable, but is not really unnecessary, since the bass line should be able to carry the rhythm by itself, just like in the original. Good selection of instruments, though! Even some vocals appear in the track.

06. Mutants - A fantastic start for this tune, very unique. It also features some of the best synthetized electric guitars I've heard in a while, has a Jan Hammer feel to it (I consider him the ultimate master of synthetized guitars). All in all, a surprisingly well-built track.

07. Arkanoid - Heavy drums underline the opening sequence of this Galway classic, which I find too heavy (I guess, we all hear different things in Galway's "farts and burps"), but it gets much better later on. And when it'd get boring, Slow Poison made sure they kept it interesting. Only if I could forget that ending with the countdown (which was inspired by Zoolook, they claim).

08. Chimera - One of the best (if not _THE_ best) covers of Chimera ever. The fast upward trills are done with perfection (with a sound typical to Korgs), the rest of it is also of very high quality. Bravo! (Says me, who never really liked Chimera!)

09. Way of the Exploding Fist - What you hear was basically dreamt up by Reyn Ouwehand on his "Nexus 6581" album and was extended to the full length of the original tune here. It's quite relaxing with an appropriately oriental feel to it.

10. Revenge of the Mutant Camels 2 - Has a sort of renaissance feel to it, which is not surprising, because the original lends itself to this style naturally. This is further magnified when a very nice flute takes over the lead. (It's definitely a synthetized flute, because you can't do portamento on a real one. ;) A beautiful cover that was long overdue for this romantic Daglish composition.

11. Gerry the Germ - The opening reminds me of "The Fifth Element" soundtrack, probably because of the brushy drums. Then some vocal-like instrument carries the lead which sounds like something that Giorgio Moroder could've composed. Chris claims they were trying to capture the style of Art of Noise in this cover, but it doesn't quite come through for me. (But then, I don't know Art of Noise that well, either.)

12. BMX Kids High-Score (aka. "5th Dream About Happiness") - An incredibly hard tune to cover, since it really flexes the muscles of the SID chip. A nice attempt is made here, and I quite like the rhythm section, but overall it seems to be missing the spirit of the original. Disappointingly short, too.

13. Sanxion - Sanxion remixes are a dime a dozen and this particular one does nothing to emerge from that grey mass. It's uninspired and, well, grey like a boring rainy day. Oh yeah, I forgot: it uses a stomping base, too - which satisfied the BIT Live crowd, but doesn't sound that good on a CD.

14. Flimbo's Quest - A cute, fun and happy tune that is very likeable. I don't think many people will dislike this one.

15. Crazy Comets - Starts out funky style, which brought a huge smile on my face, but later the lead sound somehow kills it for me. Maybe using a sax or brass instruments would've worked better here to keep it in style. Interesting touch to leave the original SID drums in here and there. It's quite fun to listen to and if your body is not gyrating when you're listening to this, you are deaf.

16. Monty on the Run - A dizzying array of instruments make this complex tune lots of fun to listen to, otherwise no surprises in the arrangement: it's the high quality stuff we can now start to expect from these guys. This track would've been better placed toward the middle of the CD, though: we get this mad rush with a violin at the end - then total silence. It's a climax without proper resolution.

It's hard to determine the style of this album, mostly because it varies so much from one track to the other: some are stompy club tunes (most created for the BIT Live event that was held in a club), others are great poppy synth pieces, yet others are calm and relaxing. Besides "Way of the Exploding Fist" which basically appeared on "Nexus 6581" first, 7 of the other tracks are covering SIDs that were also covered on BIT1 - and Chris openly admits it. Don't expect the same old stuff, though: they are covered in a completely different way on this album.

However, when Chris claims that this album is "more acoustic" than his previous works - puh-lease, this is synthetizer music, period. In spirit, though, the love of SID tunes definitely shines through. The tracks were arranged with great care, they are fun to listen to, and they were mastered to perfection before they were burnt on CDs en masse.

But should you spend your heard-earned money on this CD? That's hard to say, because Karma 64 represents such a wide rainbow of styles: somebody might think it's worth buying it just for those tracks that he likes on it, others might not think the same. Either way, your best bet is to first listen to the samples at and then decide yourself.

© 2002 by LaLa