Karin Park‘s evolution is marked in her recordings like the rings of a tree. At the centre, we find her making the jangly pop-rock of “Superworldunknown.” A little further out we discover the hardened dancefloor fillers of Highwire Poetry. The years pass, and the outer rings fill with contemplative material from Church of Imagination. The progression from young woman to mother; from ambitious pop star to complex artist; from lead performer to doom metal band member – it is all laid down in the grooves of the recordings.
Which brings us to the outermost ring, Karin Park’s Private Collection. From her base in Djura, Park has assembled a set of her favourite songs from her back catalogue, reconstructed with the singer and her pump organ at the core. One new track, “Traces of Me,” opens proceedings with a dry, unaccompanied vocal that leads to a soaring, distorted line that sounds like the blast of a rocket experienced from inside its flare. It is more than a statement of intent; it is a manifesto written from the depths of the heart.
“Opium,” from Apocalypse Pop, follows in a stripped down, slower reimagining. In a way, Park has done a This Mortal Coil to her own work – pulling at the threads to rework the fabric of the songs, while bathing them in a wash of reverb. Her studio in a converted church provides the perfect setting for this project, but it is Park’s spirit that is the most pronounced element.
Take, as an example, “Bending Albert’s Law,” from Highwire Poetry. In its original form, it was a powerful song that bubbled along on a swelling, synthetic backing. In this version, Park has tempered the instrumentation to give free reign to her vocal treatment. The level of emotion and texture in her voice is steps beyond the original, as if torn out of its packaging.
Park’s thumping collaboration with Hook N Sling, “Tokyo by Night,” also gets stripped back to its essential elements. Park’s voice cuts through the keyboards with an emotional clarity that cannot be bottled.
“Glasshouse,” from Church of Imagination, loses the embellishments added by producer Ichiro Suezawa and shifts focus. The same treatment is given to “Blue Roses,” which cuts out the percussive elements in favour of an emphasis on Park’s ability to channel energy through a range of vocal treatments. In places, she gives Nick Cave a run for his money.
The transformation of “Shine,” another song lifted from Apocalypse Pop, is striking but revealing. Park has worked with teams of producers on her commercial work; but, when pulled back to piano and vocals, her songs show their real power. It is like scratching the paint from a picture to find a master’s work beneath the surface coat.
“Look What You’ve Done” is halfway to being a Tangerine Dream track in the instrumentation. It has lost the glam stomp that made it a kind of uptempo “Personal Jesus,” and emerged from the chrysalis with even more distortion and feeling. The standout track on Private Collection, it is a gut-ripping take.
The album closes with a rework of “Superworldunknown,” the slice of positivity that made Park a pop star. It is treated respectfully, but a sense of closure lurks in her treatment. It belongs to the ring in the middle of the tree, and we are many seasons distant from it now. It has been there, at the core, as new rings were added. Now, as winter sets in, the tree surrounds it and patiently waits to grow again.