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Karda Estra - Reviews

Karda Estra - The Land of Ghosts

The Land of Ghosts is the first compilation of music drawn from both the Karda Estra and Lives & Times catalogue of albums. The common denominator to both groups is composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman. I'll make no bones here about being biased, the Karda Estra albums are very special: highly melodic, full of beautiful multi-textured music that is anything but bland. The aurally incompetent will classify it as 'New Age' but it rises far above that appellation for bland inoffensive lift music - this is carefully crafted music that is full of art and soul. One only has to play this new compilation to hear what I mean. Tracks such as From the Deep Sleep, Transference, Dorethea's Nightmusic and The Ribbon of Extremes literally glow with a musical purity - though the latter is much aided by collaborator Ileesha Bailey's ethereal vocals. Make no mistake, this is fusion music [and I know that that is another misused term], but Richard Wileman has taken elements of classical music and merged them with a restrained palette of rock instruments and dynamics. It is an infectious and heady brew, I can tell you, and this compilation is the best place to start exploring the music of Karda Estra.

This album takes the best of the Karda Estra albums, music from film soundtrack projects and a selection of choice instrumental tracks from his previous Lives & Times group. It is available exclusively from the following sources: the CD can be ordered online from Peoplesound.Com, for 6.99 (inc. p&p) from http://www.peoplesound.com/artist
/kardaestra
- you can also download sample MP3 sound files from this URL. Alternatively, a tape version of this album is available from Mick Magic's Music & Elsewhere label, 6 Farm Court, Farm Road, Frimley, Surrey, GU16 5TJ, UK. Price 3.99 - cheques payable to S J Taylor.

Karda Estra - The Land of Ghosts Vol 2 (MP3.Com)

One of the plus points about independent musicians is that they can release albums as often or as seldom as they want to. In the case of prolific musician and composer Richard Wileman of Karda Estra this means he can bring out the occassional mid-priced compilation for the fans - the LoG series collate together unreleased tracks, remixes, alternate takes and other rarities. LoG #2 also acts as a superb showcase for the new listener, an introduction to Karda Estra's strongly contemporary classical/instrumental prog-rock music. What always amazes me whenever I listen to Richard's music is how big it sounds - there are times when listening to these tracks that you would think he had a full symphony orchestra at his beck and call. Yet the music remains intimate and very romantic [in the classical sense]. But there's another aspect to the music of Karda Estra - it also has a strongly visual aspect and cries out to be allied to a movie. The music on this cd ranges from ambient to classical to dance mixes, and even a little industrial soundscaping. You couldn't put a better musical CV together!

This new collection contains fifteen tracks and is only available from MP3.Com: http://www.mp3.com/kardaestra for $10.99.

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Karda Estra - A Winter in Summertime
(No Image NICD12)

Karda Estra - A Winter in Summertime

A Winter in Summertime is a fascinating album - a lushly rich amalgam of instrumental music and lyricless vocals, it takes one on a dreamlike journey that sounds comfortingly familiar, yet has some surprises. Karda Estra are nominally a duo, with Richard Wileman looking after all the compositional/ production/instrumental duties and the haunting, ethereal voice of Ileesha Bailey providing the vocal effects and with Rachel Larkins on viola and Zoe King on clarinet. In terms of instruments on show here, the album is a distinct cut well above the usual 'New Age-ish' sound: synths, loops, samples, acoustic and electronic percussion, keyboards and guitars [plus THAT voice], these are all melded into a very ear-pleasing sound that is extremely filmic. Indeed, the music here is so filmic in texture that while its overall sound is dreamlike there are edgy little cues where, if visuals were tied in with this, we would be seeing something bizarre. The music here is extremely spacious but not "spacey" - no bug eyed aliens here - whatever story the music telling is earthbound, perhaps a dreamlike psychodrama set in the Hammer House of Horror? I haven't singled out individual tracks here as it seems irrelevant, most segue into the next, so you listen to the whole sequence. Imagine a mixture of The Enid, Enigma, Code>Indigo and Camel - it's that good! The only shortcoming is that the album is extremely brief, a shade under 30 minutes and leaves one wanting more; and the final track, Fatal Flaw, seems to end too abruptly. Apart from that A Winter in Summertime is definitely one of the best albums I've heard this year.

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Karda Estra - Thirteen From the Twenty First
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Karda Estra - Thirteen from the Twenty First

Thirteen From the Twenty First is the latest from Richard Wileman and his friends. A longer album this time, with thirteen extremely atmospheric tracks, once again with the very ethereal vocals of Ileesha Bailey. Thirteen is a collection of quasi-classical pieces, written for or inspired by surrealist art, miniatures and film soundtracks. As before the music here is extremely lush, rock 'n' roll it certainly ain't. Indeed I guess you should [if you have to] classify this as Contemporary Classical music - but thankfully without the aimless bombast and tunelessness of most unlistenable new music that turns up in the Proms each year. It seems incredible that a part-time composer/musician [no insult intended here!] of this high calibre is toiling away in relative obscurity as this is a lovely album, full of melody and dynamics. With the addition of Caron Hansford on various woodwind instruments to the group listed for the previous album, Richard Wileman makes inventive use of his musical canvas, making subtle use of multi-tracking and echo to create his vivid sound portraits. Most of the tracks stand alone from their visual inspirations, but some of the latter soundtrack pieces share the discordancy of their movie sources and aren't quite as melodic. Thirteen is a very fine album and well worth exploring, for me it wasn't quite as immediately appealing as Winter was because the music here is a collection of seperate projects while the previous album is a complete entity in itself - but after several playbacks now it is revealing the gems hidden within.

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Lives & Times - There and Back Again Lane
(Cyclops CYCL 029)

This 1995 album by Lives & Times offers a preview of the sound that Richard Wileman would later bring to his project, Karda Estra. It begins with some instrumental ambient sounds at the start of Why Do I Watch, which morph into a slowly pounding rocker with singularly breathy vocals by Lorna Cumberland, before returning to the ambient sounds. Trust Me I'm Your Doctor is just downright funky, though I use that term in the clinical Steely Dan way, rather than say, Bootsy Collins. It's tight, with a great melody and a guitar solo to make Jeff Beck proud. Darker carries on in a similar vein but with a gothic feel and with some near Kraftwerkian synth tinklings in the background. Ten Boats on the River is a low-key ballad, with some lovely multi-tracked harmony vocals from Ms Cumberland. This voice shines again on Show Me An Answer, another gently funky number. The instrumental Lizard Baby starts with booming drums followed by brooding guitars that go mental by the end of the track. Long Gone is the final song, and well up to the previous standard. Final track, though, is a ten minute instrumental that certainly points to the KE sound. This Year's Drift is orchestral-based, with a discordant piano weaving in and out of this backdrop like a demented shepherd trying to push the orchestra to the logical conclusion. This is challenging music and could fall into any number of categories, starting with contempoary classical. There and Back Again Lane is an intriguing album, offering music that on the surface is ear candy but bite through and there's substance and intelligence below.

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Lives & Times - Hoarse
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Lives & Times - Hoarse

Lives and Times was the precursor to Richard Wileman's Karda Estra project. And it is quite a different 'animal', much more a conventional rock band, With little of the instrumental classicism found on the Karda Estra CDs. In fact Hoarse is a curious mix of goth atmospherics vying with lyrical rock. A curious mix of jangling guitars ala the Byrds and the slightly gothic choirlike vocals of Ileesha Bailey - something which became extremely ethereal in the later Karda Estra Albums. Richard Wileman wrote all the songs, with a few co-written with Ms Bailey, he also plays most of the instruments, with a number of other musicians helping out on various tracks. Standout tracks include Your Honesty, Safe Haven, Playing For Time, Landmarks, Let The Clouds All Melt Away, and Something About You. Comparisons are always a bit dodgy but I guess if you like All About Eve, Everything But The Girl, and perhaps the Coctau Twins with some of the prog-rock aspirations of Yes then you might find Lives And Times to your tastes.

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Lives & Times - Waiting For The Parade
(SI Music Simply 43)

Lives & Times - The Great Sad Happy Ending
(SI Music Simply 57)

These two albums by Lives & Times predate composer/multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman's current music project Karda Estra, but they both contain the seeds of his signature orchestral style, both in the backings to the songs and in the instrumental tracks themselves. Both albums date back to 1994 and feature the silky voice of Lorna Cumberland.

Waiting For The Parade is a more song-based album than its successor, and the general feeling is of dreaminess and timeliness. Highlights include Immortal, Corners, Dirty Secrets, and the symphonic instrumental Ascent. The Great Sad Happy Ending sounds something like a cross between Pink Floyd and the cracked dreamworld of the Cocteau Twins, and contains a mixture of songs and instrumental tracks. Highlights are Begin and End, Strange World, Wired to the Moon, Oversized, and One Step Forward.

Karda Estra - New Worlds
(Free Download)

Karda Estra - New Worlds [download only]A new album by Richard Wileman and his band Karda Estra is always a highlight of my listening pile of CDs. And this time is no different - New Worlds is a collection of instrumental tracks with the theme of 'futurist nostalgia'. And while the sound is the patented Karda Estra sound of electric, acoustic instruments and the ethereal lyricless vocals of the wonderfully voiced Illeesha Bailey, the addition of several collaborators has given the sound and the music a new edge. These collaborators are Kavus Torabi, Don Falcone, Bridget Wishart and Stu Rowe. Their addition has expanded the Karda Estra sound palette in interesting ways, the use of brass and woodwinds broaden the tone and the music has become even more filmic than before. I have no idea how 'futurist nostalgia' music should sound, but don't expect sci-fi sounding synths and cosmic riffs. The music here is restrained, neo classical, perhaps the ghost of Burt Bacharach flits through occasionally, there is a limitless archaism in the retro sound - it is the sort of music you might have heard while wandering the infinite corridors of Gormenghast. The twelve track titles are: Chronoclasm, Transmissions, Fifty Below Zero, Eternity Station, Girl In A Spaceship, Sea Of Tranquility, The Sky Below, Radiance, The Doll's House, The Celestial Lounge, Invaders From Venus, Chronoclasm II. These titles alone could inspire sci-fi writers, but the music will also create an ambience for others to create new worlds and scenarios. Every Karda Estra album is special - they represent a unparalleled musical vision, one little tainted by outside influences. New Worlds is as good as previous albums, only time and repeated listening will show if it is one of Richard Wileman's best. But as it is available for free and offers the listener a free pass into a unique musicians' mindset then I think it has to be highly recommended, don't you?

New Worlds is available only as a download album. You can obtain a free 256k mp3 version (same quality as Amazon/i-tunes) download at: http://www.gimmesound.com/KARDAESTRA/

Or pay what you want (min £1) for 320k mp3 or lossless formats at: http://kardaestra.bandcamp.com/album/new-worlds

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Karda Estra - Weird Tales
(Cyclops Records CYCL 171)

Karda Estra - Weird TalesIt has been a while since the last Karda Estra album, so to have a new album in the current economical crisis is something of a bonus. Weird Tales sounds like an advancement on the usual Karda Estra sound - along with the usual band members there are several extra musicians involved bringing new instruments to the palette, especially in terms of synths and reeds. The album sounds beefier and louder than previous ones, which to my mind is a good thing. Weird Tales has an overall gothic sci-fi scenario to the music, not exactly a unified concept album but a bit like a musical version of the Twilight Zone or the ubiquitous Weird Tales magazines of old. Opening track The Whitstable Host is dedicated to the late great Hammer Horror, Peter Cushing, and captures the actors' suave menace and heroic demeanour. Not many cult actors could carry off being hero and monster so well as the late and great PC. Track Two, Skulls in the Stars is drawn from the sword and sorcery characters of Robert E Howard, and is a heavyweight piece, full of energy and bravado, and the nearest to orchestral rock Karda Estra composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman has got to yet. Some of the other tracks are drawn from surrealist art with a fantasy motive, and The Eye of Silence, Green Dog Trumpet and There is No Finished World reflect this. These are longer tracks, allowing for a more reflective mindscape to be depicted. The Atom Age of Impermanence is loosely drawn on writer Kim Newman's take on the Dracula legend, a good fit for one of Karda Estra more eerie excursions for Ileesha Bailey's choral-like vocals. Finally, Island Universes evokes the vast solitude of space, and in particular the gaps between universes. There has never been a poor Karda Estra album and this isn't going to break that duck - Weird Tales is exceptionally good, highly evocative soundtracks for the mind's imagination. One can only ponder the question of why Karda Estra's music isn't more widely known, and more importantly why some imaginative movie director hasn't signed Richard Wileman up to score there latest film!

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Karda Estra - The Last of the Libertine
(Cyclops CYCL 163)

Karda Estra - The Last Of The LibertinesThe new album by Karda Estra is something of a departure from their usual quasi-classical style - for one thing much of the music has a harder edge and on many of the tracks a distinctive beat or rhythm propels the music along at a fair speed. It definitely seems to be more prog rock than modern classical, this time. Richard Wileman, who writes all the music and plays many of the instruments, seems to have had a marked shift in attitude in his music, and where once a Karda Estra album consisted of slow dreamy, introspective music that had a distinctive filmic quality he has now added a broader range of instruments and a definitive rhythm and beat that moves the music onwards, plus a little far eastern ethnicity on one or two tracks makes it more interesting. Brass instruments are one of the new additions and their more structured sound adds a sheen to the music that evokes [in me] thoughts of the movie music of the likes of Ennio Morricone, Burt Bacharach and Miles Davis. The angelic vocals of Ileesha Bailey are happily still there, as are the multi-tracked strings and woodwind, and I think this extension of the instrumental palette offers a beefier sound, one that is even more cinematic in scope and hold the interest throughout. A lack of sleevenotes means I have no idea who the libertine of the title is, but that doesn't really matter as the eight tracks here are all up to the usual quality of a KE album, and one of the fun things to do while listening is to make up your own scenarios as the music plays.

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Karda Estra - The Age Of Science & Enlightenment
[Cyclops CYCL 158]

Karda Estra - The Age Of Science & EnlightenmentThe latest album by Richard Wileman's musical collective, Karda Estra, has taken two years to complete, so you can't accuse him of rushing into it. Age strikes me as being much darker in theme and atmosphere than his previous albums - opening track Talos certainly has a dour aspect to it, unadorned by the heavenly voices that appear later on and soften the impact. There is always the impression with a Karda Estra album that you are listening to the soundtrack of a movie - not your usual Hollywood mash up but something deep and meaningful from some land where the snow and ice bite deep into your soul. While the album tracks have titles such as Carmilla, Am I Dreaming You? Are You Dreaming Me?, Nocturne Macabre and the title track the synergy between title and the music is so enigmatic that your own mind makes up much of the scenario for itself. One could get their brains in a twist trying to classify exactly what type of music Karda Estra play - the interface where modern classical and progressive rock shimmers and shifts in a fog of indecision, but the music of Karda Estra straddles it with confidence. This is music that disregards the barriers of categorisation and just is... a logical extension of the previous albums, pushing the boundaries of musical exploration into new areas of reality. So fans of Karda Estra and Richard's unique musical vision won't be disappointed with Age, it fulfills all that you expect from his music, is beautifully recorded and produced. This is music for the sake of the music, no commercial considerations need apply.

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Karda Estra - Alternate History
(Cyclops CYL 146)

Karda Estra - Alternative HistoryIn these days of homogenised music, the lot of the independent musician, whatever genre they exist in, is harder than ever to make a mark on the musical landscape. Ignored by almost all UK radio stations, feted by only the most obtuse of music magazines or fanzines, one can only applaud their determination to make music of quality in a world of benevolent ignorance. Having said that, it hasn't stopped composer Richard Wileman and his collaborators from releasing a series of innovative albums in recent years under the guise of Karda Estra.

Richard periodically issues a budget priced compilation album to showcase the the best of his recent albums. And this is what Alternate History is, a collection of tracks from the following albums: Eve, Voivode Dracula, Thirteen From Twentyfirst, Land of Ghosts, A Winter In Summertime and Constellations [see reviews elsewhere on this page]. For the laughingly cheap outlay of £3.99 you can sample music of such clarity and atmospheric beauty that you should immediately rush out and buy all of these albums! To be fair I've been a fan of the Karda Estra 'sound' for many years now and I am undeniably biased, but I believe there are few other composers in this country who are creating such distinctive music.

All music has to be marketed and this is where musicians like Richard hit the brick wall - thanks to the narrow minded marketing that strangles the British music retailers, it is near impossible to categorise what type of music Karda Estra make, and where in the shop you should put it - and don't even get me started on how to get airplay on the radio! To simply class it as prog rock merely trivialises it, there are strong elements of classical, gothic, ambient, choral, and on tracks like Avatar even dance... But then, you really need to listen to the music, forget musical categories, simply listen and let the musical world of Richard Wileman and his musical collaborators beguile you. This is music of so many moods and atmospheres that it transports you to a world a cosmos away from Pop Idol and X Factor. And what is all the more amazing is that these sample tracks, ripped from their original settings, have been sequenced to produce what is effectively a brand new album with a cohesive identity of its own. Now that is the sign of a right clever bugger!

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Karda Estra - Voivode Dracula
(Cyclops 143)

Karda Estra - Voivode DraculaThe latest album by Richard Wileman and his musical accomplices continues to travel and explore that goth/classical/ambient musical pathway that his recent albums have also taken. No guesses then that Voivode Dracula is Richard's musical take on Bram Stoker's famous novel [there are pertinent quotes from the book in the cd inlay booklet].

The five tracks are based on sections of the book, or inspired by descriptions of places and events: Voivode Dracula, Lucy - Festina Lente, The Land Beyond The Forest, Mina, and Kisses For Us All. Those expecting something along the lines of a dramatic Hammer Horror movie soundtrack score should expect to be disappointed, the music here follows the stylistic template that has been evolving over the last few albums. I guess you could say that the album exudes an aura of gentle drama - most of the music is low key melody enriched by Illeesha Bailey's aptly haunting vocals. As always, Richard's music is a dreamscape, in this instance, depicting the gothic fantasy that was Dracula - stripping away the modern day baggage that Dracula has accumulated as a media icon, the music suggests that he was a romantic hero, albeit a flawed and demonic one.

Of all the cultural monsters we now revere in an unjudgemental way Dracula is the one almost everyone would secretly like to be. For many he has become the ultimate lover and romantic anti-hero. Evil has never been so sexy... and this music also reflects this - each track is a lengthy tone poem to seductive evil.

It seems that every album Karda Estra issue is their best to date and this is no different. Richard Wileman and his regular colleagues quietly go about producing some of the most sublime music that should be heard by a much wider audience, but isn't. Now that is a national evil!

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Karda Estra - Constellations
(Cyclops CYCL 130)

Karda Estra - ConstellationsThis is the latest album from multi-instrumentalist and composer Richard Wileman. The music is inspired this time by space and time - with many a nod to the mythological and astronomical origins of the six constellations represented here: The Southern Cross, Hydra, Cassiopeia, Phoenix, Scorpio and Vela. As always with a Karda Estra album, the music and lyricless vocals are subtly merged together with the mostly acoustic instrumentation to create these dream-like passages of music that certainly could be classed as 'Harmony of the spheres'.

While Constellations continues to explore the same stylistic sound pallette used on the previous album, Eve, some of the tracks, notably the opener, The Southern Cross, also utilise restrained splashes of electric guitar for dramatic effect. And again, the multi-tracked vocals of Ileesha Bailey add their ethereal and in this case cosmic beauty to many of the tracks - most noticably on Phoenix. There is even space for Richard Wileman to add an homage to his favourite musician Steve Hackett on the final track, Twice Around The Sun.

There's an over-riding sense of timelessness to the music on this album, and a deep sense of awe at what surrounds us in the cosmos. One expects music about space to be dripping with synthesisers and deepness, yet this music couldn't be further from this: strings, woodwind and a small pallete of electronica have created much to admire. This is music that deserves to be heard by a much wider audience than it is likely to find, and should be on Radio 3 at the very least.

If you have heard Karda Estra's music before then you can buy this cd in confidence that it is a fine album that ranks with their finest. If you've never heard of Karda Estra before and are wary of trying new music then I shall say to you don't be - not all 'new music' unfriendly, and Constellations is a good place to start.

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Karda Estra - Eve

Karda Estra - EveI have to admit upfront that I have been privy to progress reports on this new Karda Estra album from the very early days, and so the day the CD arrived was one fraught with anticipation - and no little fear. After all, being friends with Karda Estra's composer/multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman leads one to high expectations... and being a gentle soul I'd hate to write negative comments if the album was a dog. Thankfully [for the sake of our friendship!] I can honestly say that Eve is one of the most unique albums I've heard in a very long time.s

Loosely based on an obscure nineteenth century French science fiction story [The Future Eve by Villiers de L'Isle Adam] and similar themes to be found in Frankenstein movie series, where Man creates a synthetic woman, the music of Eve explores the emotional and atmospheric ideas that such fantasies contain. One strange fact I've noted is that in all the years I've been reading SF and fantasy fiction it is always the man creating his ideal woman and not the other way around. I mean, surely the gals want to create their own ideal hunk... But I digress.

Recorded in his home studio [aka the spare bedroom - to read more about this click here] one can't help but be amazed at the clarity of vision and sound brought to bear on this project. In essence Eve is a seven part tone poem [or in rock parlance a prog-rock-lite concept album] utilising a small chamber instrumental group along with a delicate mix of acoustic and electric guitars and subdued keyboards, topped by the always lambent voice of Ileesha Bailey. The other excellent musicians on the album are: Helen Dearnley [violin], Caron Hansford oboe, cor anglais], Zoe King [woodwind], and Rachel Larkins [viola, violin].

In musical terms Eve is a masterpiece of lyrical understatement, forgoing the usual rock bombast and concentrating on the melody. I'm not going to pick out favourite tracks here as that would be redundant, the album works as an entity and selecting one or two tracks over the whole would unbalance everything. Eve is meant to be heard as an album and if you enjoy instrumental music then I can't recommend this album highly enough. I don't think there is anyone else making music of this quality - and moreover the style is so unique and personal that marketing it will be difficult. But Eve deserves to be heard by anyone who is fed up with the current state of commercial pop music, 'cos there are still mavericks out there taking chances and being original. And God knows music needs more originality and individuality now than ever before.

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