Album Review: Karima Walker – Waking the Dreaming Body

[Keeled Scales/Orindal; 2021]

All elements of life come from stars – billions of years’ worth of galactic dust being re-processed and re-formed as Carbon, Helium, Hydrogen and everything else, before it settles. We might see ourselves as separate from all we observe, but this fact blurs the border between us as humans and everything else on the planet, and it’s in this overlap between all matter that Karima Walker dwells on her stunning new album Waking the Dreaming Body. For her second full length, she wanted to do away with interiority and try to push her mind and soul outwards in order to, as she so perfectly puts it on the album’s opening track, “reconstellate the stars inside me.” 

Walker originally had intentions to record in New York, but illness and then the pandemic thwarted that, and instead she ended up recording, engineering and producing everything in her makeshift studio at her home in Tucson, Arizona. This seems to have been a blessing, because Waking the Dreaming Body is an album that consorts with and channels the endless skies and stark landscapes of her home state. Across the eight tracks of the album, she shifts between intimate personal reflections and extensive ambient meditations with the elegance of tides swelling and settling. The guiding lights in the sky above her are the likes of Cat Power, Grouper, and Stars of the Lid, but this album is all about Walker’s own quiet exposure of her soul to the natural world.

Opening track “Reconstellated” sets the scene for her exploration, with a luminous analogue drone bubbling around and caressing her observations that she’s “trapped inside a framed landscape” and she’s “so careful what I let in.” Acknowledging her introversion is the first step towards “reconstellating the ground at our feet”, and from that point we set off with Walker on a humble and enlightening journey of discovery.

Driving around Arizona and watching the grandiose landscapes subtly but drastically change is one of Walker’s main inspirations for Waking The Dreaming Body. It’s something she mentions specifically on “Softer”, and is again rendered on the ambient track “Horizon, Harbor Resonance”, which, across its 13 minutes, shifts slowly but purposefully in undulating waves of harmonic tones. Throughout the album, she doesn’t attempt to capture the majesty of these natural miracles in direct words, but instead paints a reflection of their impression on her. Utilising tender synth drones and sussurating vocal loops to support her voice, she sings out the ephemeral feelings that come from observing the grace of her extraordinary environment. 

Walker’s music here feels like its channeling thoughts and ideas that are floating in the atmosphere, ready to be plucked and examined. They are so delicate that when she opens “Windows I” with the line “another year in debt”, the words are so unavoidably drawn from the dullness of human reality that it feels like a leaden clang disrupting a vivid daydream – yet it doesn’t interrupt Walker’s floating self-observation, which flutters on unbidden with antigravitational piano chords. “Windows I” continues with Walker pontificating “I couldn’t tell if the window in my head / when it’s clear, might be a mirror”, again circling around the idea of her identity in relation to her place in the universe. She doesn’t attempt to stab at answers though, simply concluding “pull the windows wide, feel it all instead,” and the remaining six minutes of the song plays out in quietly roaring jets of sound, like air flowing through the cracked window of a moving car. It makes us feel as if we’re sitting alongside the songwriter, entirely comfortable in the silence, thinking to ourselves and watching the world’s infinite tiny transitions through the glass.

We’re stirred from this lucid daydream with “Windows II”, which creeps in on glistening guitar to inform us that night has fallen, and Walker confirms as she observes “moonlight in the window / our bodies be recast.” In this nocturnal realm, Walker’s connections between herself and the natural world seem even more vivid. The aforementioned “Horizon, Harbor Resonance” unfolds with the celestial shine of a comet, burning on entry to our atmosphere and then splitting into tiny pieces, just as the song’s patient placidity cracks into multiple harmonious overlapping tones at around the nine-minute mark, until it finally fades and all that’s left in our ears is the wind and a heartbeat. 

“The earth is shaking, she’s taking a breath / while the rest of us hold it,” she begins the following track, “Waking the Dreaming Body”. It’s the closest she comes to a standard ‘singer-songwriter’ song on the album – although there are still some gorgeously reedy undertones that give it an earthy feel. Here, she reflects on the minor revolutions and discoveries she’s made over the course of her self-exploration to this point, but she realises the picture is just too big to contain in words – “there’s no use in explaining,” she admits. Instead she simply relishes the discovery of the overlap between herself and the world around her, concluding “if I could crawl inside you, I mean it, I could just die here… between.”

These are the final words on Waking The Dreaming Body, as Walker rounds out the record with another puffy ambient track, in which we imagine her soul sinking into the ground at her feet and becoming one with the universe. It’s titled “For Heddi”, but honestly it’s for all of us – an invitation for us to join her again in the liminal space between the human, natural, and conceptual realms. Waking the Dreaming Body is the crossing to that place, and it’s as thrilling as it is soothing.