On his new solo album, Karate frontman Geoff Farina asks the question burning heart-shaped holes in a hundred thousand indie-rockers' ironically T-shirted chests: Can you rock without rocking? A good question, but I like his answer better: "Um, well, hell yeah." Doesn't sound like much, but I'm inclined to take the shrug at face value after hearing Reverse Eclipse's neatly drawn anti-rock. Since 1998's excellent The Bed is in the Ocean, Karate, the punk(ish) band Farina started after graduating from Boston's Berklee College of Music with a sparkling guitar degree, have moved from Slint-styled spiderwebs to a sort of Django Reinhardt core, made of nebulous, open-ended jazz chords that hang perilously in mid-air until Farina pins them down with the type of esoteric-ass zen koans you'd expect from a guy who slapped "Usonian Dream Sequence" on his last solo album.
That record fingered Farina as a would-be jobber afraid to let go of his straight singer-songwriter tendencies, but Reverse Eclipse is the real abstract deal, virtually free of the acoustic-troubadour accents he used to make girls swoon. Instead, he's retreated entirely into his post-graduate studies, hitching his three-note tenor to a string of tricky minor ninths and basking in the negative space. Lots of folks drop the Steely Dan reference when they talk about Farina's solo stuff (even Farina--he named a 1999 single after the band), but I don't really see it: Becker and Fagen's m.o. balanced (or balances, if you believed Two Against Nature) on a fulcrum of cynicism and African-American back-up singers; Farina just exhales and informs us that "profane fames and phantom pains disappear with rains down city drains, but like Indian summers that hold on to their suns, only the best days remain." Katy lied? Um, well, yeah, but she's really sorry about it.
I see more of Farina's past in his work than the Dan drops allow. The meticulously clean-toned arpeggios that form Reverse Eclipse's foundation aren't punk rock, but they're stubborn to swing, stuck in the same whiplashed lockstep that undoubtedly scored Farina's teen years in the very way that his prose reflects the Boston skyline he wakes up to every morning. That's not a dis, though: This is the sound of righteous indignation drifting into its own track-lit twilight. Rock without rocking? To Farina, it's just pretzel logic.
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