Waking the Dreaming Body by Karima Walker is an album that’s not in a hurry to get where it’s going, it perfectly captures the moments in between things. Half-awake moments that fall between the gaps in concentration and the void; like in a film where the camera pulls focus very slowly and you struggle to make sense of what you are seeing. The album was originally meant to be recorded in New York in November 2019, but illness forced Karima Walker to head back to her native Tucson where she ended up recording in a makeshift home studio. Happily, this led to a surfeit of time and the ability to go deep into the rabbit hole of experimentation with loops, field recordings and arrangements formed by treating instruments and voice as jigsaw pieces to fragment, reassemble and stretch. It’s a taffy pull of an album where the elasticity of the source material is tested to breaking point, but actually makes it stronger.
Karima Walker’s voice is the North Star that guides the album through its journey. Her understated delivery and relaxed precision sit perfectly on top of the soft ground it walks on. The beauty of her singing forms a cohesive meniscus over arrangements that are shifting sand of sound washes, crackling loops and uncertain resolutions and her doubled voice also gives the impression of Alice both in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass. Walker says “I sought to make arrangements that swell at certain moments and barely hold together at others, moving with my breath and other rhythms connecting my body to the natural world. Ultimately, I was seeking to draw myself out, to reconstruct my personal narrative.”
Waking the Dreaming Body mixes the acoustic and electronically processed into an ethereal stew that reflects its genesis in one of the hottest desert summers in Arizona’s history. You can almost sense the delirious effect of heat here, the sparseness of the landscape and its mirages. The simple repetition of the guitar lines drift gratifyingly over electronic loops on tracks like ‘Reconstellated’ and ‘Softer’ and, where the vocal-led tracks are close to terra firma, there are others like ‘Interlude’, “Horizon, Harbor Resonance” and “For Heddi” that are pure electronic meditations that want to retune your alpha waves. ‘Window I’ features piano, cello-like loop and a hint of strings that trail off halfway through its 8’47” into sounds that could be from the seashore or blood rushing, and the title track itself sounds like something the SETI institute hope they’ll receive from space.
This kind of ambient-folk is languorous and sits on the outskirts of ASMR; a calming world you can escape to for it’s 40 minute running time. It shares a postcode with one of my favourite albums of 2020 Sing High! Sing Low! by The Silver Field as they both provide an opulent reverie that folds dreams into reality and compels us to slow down and be in the moment; and what a moment it is.
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Review by Paul F Cook