"A Winter in Summertime" (Album, 1998)
Lush orchestrations abound on this dramatic suite of largely instrumental creations. The seven tracks on A Winter in Summertime are undeniably filmic in nature but Karda Estra manage to strike a remarkable balance between film score and emotionally-charged ambient. It comes as no surprise to learn that KE have already licensed some of their tracks for use in film soundtracks. Composer and producer Richard Wileman is the driving force behind Karda Estra, playing everything from keyboards, through bass and lead guitars. His talents even extend to the drums and percussion. The workload is shared with Ileesha Bailey who offers up a variety of ghostly voices (but no actual words or lyrics) and also plays that school favourite - the recorder; Rachel Larkins on viola and Zoe King on flute and clarinet complete the line up for this debut album.
If it wasn't for XTC, it would be hard to imagine that such epic and glorious compositions could arise from humble Swindon. There's a folksy, almost medieval aspect to some of the tracks. The combination of Bailey's voice and Wileman's strings and the wind instruments drifts uncomfortably close to Clannad on a couple of occasions, and it is here that Karda Estra's distinctiveness wanes. The rock guitar tendencies of Transference are the only glaringly unwise deviation from form. Far more challenging and intriguing are the greyer shades that underlie many of the songs. There's an almost sinister (some might even be tempted to say Gothic) undercurrent that adds a troubling air to the proceedings and helps takes A Winter in Summertime into a less predictable and more imaginative level than you might first expect.
Fans of romantic or dark fantasy films, Sheffield's In The Nursery, or the 'angelic voices' house style of Hyperium acts like early Chandeen should find Karda Estra's less structured take on the territory a welcome proposition. Choicest cuts for me are Covert (whose deep piano briefly recalls John Barry's incidental work for the Bond films) and The Excavation Site that, with its mixture of awe and terror, reminds me of the climatic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (although with a title like that perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey is the inspiration). Karda Estra have subsequently released more material and you should not be surprised if it also appears here in due course. 7/10
Official Karda Estra website: http://www.kardaestra.co.uk