Review: My Sleeping Karma ‘Atma’

My Sleeping Karma have long been one of those bands that other people see as central to ‘The Scene’, and yet they have only been on the fringes of my awareness. I’ve had some good car journeys with 2012’s Soma and saw them once supporting Colour Haze, but aside from that, they have never been a touchstone for me. So, the prospect of a highly anticipated new album after a long wait had me curious. No doubt their steady live presence and knowledge of band craft (given the Sound Of Liberation connection) has had a part to play in the widespread anticipation, but I was keen to dig into some summery smooth stoner-psych and thought this could be my jam.

My Sleeping Karma 'Atma'

Which will teach me to do my research… Atma is an album suffused with a sense of struggle, there is much narrative (and indeed a comic book that comes with the record) to elaborate on the themes, but even without words, this is clearly a broodingly intense album. Yes, present is the festival-ready Euro-cleanliness, coupled with live and rattly kit sound for immediacy, but it is deployed here to have a good old think about the state of the world, rather than to kick back and chill out. That’s a lot of ground to cover for an instrumental band but My Sleeping Karma deploy all their post-Pelican sensibility, plus a hefty wodge of keyboards.

Here’s a brief digression on the use of synths: I used to be instantly dismissive of anything that used keyboards (that weren’t actual piano), then learned to stop worrying and love the synth, whether groovy retro-Hammond or as extra noise in maximalist psych. However, it remains a potential turn-off for me, by criteria as yet unarticulated.

moments where we get a nod to the desert rock classics (Mukti) and mellow flowing sections that open out into brighter clearings (Avatara)…

All of which is a preamble to saying that on Atma I found too often the synth lines weakened the drive and intruded on my trip. There is a strange effect to some of this sort of polished European rock, and Atma is a good example – things are moody, build towards a peak but pulls back. Is this a stylistic choice of restraint, or are they not sure how to bridge into a resolution? There is an offer of transcendence to come, but when it comes to it, the emotional range feels quite limited. Maybe this is my ear as a critical notetaker, or maybe the smooth journey without release into chaos is the message as well as the medium.

There are moments where we get a nod to the desert rock classics (Mukti) and mellow flowing sections that open out into brighter clearings (Avatara), but this is explicitly an album ‘furiously driven’ by ‘infinite darkness, despair, and sadness’. Perhaps a strange medium to tackle such themes, but My Sleeping Karma bring considerable expertise to bear in doing so. This could go down as a strange product of a troubled time or grow into something considered a classic of its era.

Label: Napalm Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Harry Holmes