I first heard Karate on the once-defunct, now-revived WOXY.com. They were an occasional break from the din of fuzzed-out guitars and nasal, tenor singing. Alongside acts like Wolf Parade and Silver Jews, Karate’s music is positively ethereal. At their best, their songs reside somewhere between portraits and short-stories, free-jazz re-imaginings of early Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits (think Blinded by the Light and Jersey Girl, respectively).

If that all makes no-sense, it’s because I don’t really understand Karate. I tend to be a bit surprised when they come on both by their sound–so different from the rest of the indie-rock landscape–and that I like it so much. Perhaps the best way I can explain it, is that their name fits them perfectly. Their songs evoke the image of a solitary warrior, surveying the city after it has gone to sleep, all too aware of its flaws but, unable to let go of it. It’s a cinematic cliché, to be sure, but it’s also a film I’d enjoy, and for 5 or 6 minutes, it is wonderful to have that feeling conjured.

Sharon Jones and Daptone Records

Back in December, while doing the annual holiday shopping, I picked up Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings most recent album, 100 Days, 100 Nights. Sharon Jones is the elder-stateswoman at Daptone Records, a small Brooklyn label specializing in Soul, Funk, Gospel and Afro-beat (their words). Most of Daptone’s output appears to be vinyl LPs and 45s, adding to the label’s old-school feel.

100 Days, 100 Nights is truly late-60’s era soul, free of the 80’s and 90’s guitar and synth sounds ever-present in Neo-Soul. The writing sticks to the battle of the sexes school, with Jones’ full, emotive voice lending credence to the words. The band is a hefty 8-piece, who’ve worked with Amy Winehouse, and apparently been sampled by Kanye West and Lily Allen, provide a solid backing for Jone’s voice. With tight, in-the-pocket beats and shuddering brass harmonies.

My CD included a second disc, Binky Griptite’s GhettoFunkPowerHour, a mix hosted by one of the Dap-Kings’ guitarists, that showcased many of their label-mates along with two bonus, Scion-sponsored, Daptone samplers–one disc of remixes and one of original recordings, all-in-all, over 2 hours of additional music. While I could do without the remix disc, the extras served to further stoke my fire for Daptone’s excellent offerings.