Tuesday, April 20
Striking Out With Kaki King
Artist: Kaki King
Short Review: High on talent but low on ideas, Junior is a well-made non-factor of an album.
Long Review: True story: I had a friend in college who was the worst with women. I mean, just absolutely, mind-fuckingly terrible. It was as if this guy would go out of his way to shoot himself in the foot when it came to meeting ladies. In fact, to this day I can only remember him ever having what could be charitably referred to as a “girlfriend.” Really, she was more of a one-night-stand that he couldn't let go of. You might be surprised to hear that their relationship, such as it was, didn't last more than a month.
I bring this up only because this overly-polite young woman was enamored with Kaki King. The one awkward time I hung out with the two of them, I ended up asking about music as a means to shatter the uncomfortable, The Office-like queasiness that had settled in the room, and was rewarded with a dissertation on how awesome Kaki King was.
After listening to Junior, King's fifth album and first on Rounder Records, I can sort of see where the obsession could come from. Which isn't to say that the record is especially good (because it isn't), just that King has potential.
Junior shifts between two phases: paranoid, narrative rock music and wandering ambient guitar strumming, two subgenres she is able to handle with ease. There is no questioning her chops as a guitar player, as the woman can play a mean lick. Her style is reminiscent of fellow she-rocker Marnie Stern, though King is much more composed and less rawkus than Stern. For example, Stern would never play something as restrained as “Everything Has An End, Even Sadness,” an example of one of the album's better ambient works.
Then again, Stern's albums never get boring, either. Rocking tracks like “The Betrayer” and “Spit it Back Into My Mouth” are solid, but by “The Hoopers of Hudspurt,” she's run out of ideas. And as far as the ambient stuff goes, ones enjoyment will depend on how much moody guitar riffing one can handle before that shit gets old. Me personally, I can't take much of it.
What is frustrating about Junior is King's obvious talent. It is clear that this is a woman capable of a level of musicianship most artists can't achieve, yet she seems unable to do anything more with it than repeat a few good ideas with diminishing returns. While the album isn't bad by any means, it isn't stand-out in any way. For super fans, like that would-be girlfriend of my luckless pal, the album might be enough to hold over until the next release. For average folks, however, there is too little to get excited about.
Key Tracks: The Betrayer, Spit It Back In My Mouth, Everything Has An End, Even Sadness
Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip