Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kaki King's journey into revenge a stunningly good trip

By Jon Jacobs

March 19, 2008 | When Sony Records debuted Kaki King in 2004 with Legs to Make Us Longer, she was quickly heralded as a brilliant instrumentalist. Apart from her immense technical skill on the guitar, King also played drums, bass, and even hummed some pretty tunes as backdrops to her increasingly intricate work.

Of course, indie kids thought King was the coolest thing since sliced bread, and one could understand why; no other female to don the guitar in recent memory tops her skill with the instrument (and did I mention she's cute?). But for mass consumption, Legs was too technical, too revolved around self-assured skill and, frankly, just a little lacking in standout tracks.

So King did what any other indie-queen-uber-guitarist would do; she left her major label and joined with a new age producer. The result was 2006's . . . Until We Felt Red, an album that sounds like what would happen if Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Enya had a guitar-picking love child. The album featured substantively less acoustic guitar, actual vocals and more echoed backdrops, reminiscent of post-rock bands such as Mogwai or Sigur Ros.

Apart from its new age elements, Red featured arguably the most arduous melodies King has made; confusing in its sudden leaps into different time signatures and complete deconstructions of melodies and themes into a misguided ambience. Yet, despite this, Red was rather pleasing, a reminder to why we placed stock in King in the first place.

As could be expected, anticipation for King's next release was high, as her tours for Red were sold out nearly everywhere and she was featured on several feature-film soundtracks, including 2007's August Rush. In response, King hooked up with Malcom Burn, an anal-retentive adult contemporary folk producer, to create an album to push all of her limitations as a songwriter.

The result is Dreaming of Revenge, King's most accessible album to date that picks up precisely where Red left off; insanely impressive guitar work backed by subtle, ambient pads and strings. At times, the combination is nothing short of astounding.

The album is kick-started by the incredibly driving instrumental Bone Chaos in the Castle, showcasing some of King's most catchy melodies and rhythms: her sense of style never wavering for even a moment on the two-and-a-half minute opener. Much of the album follows this rhythmic and progressive model.

However, the most exciting tracks are those that do not. Such is the case with Life Being What It Is, a cadenced ode to revenge with lyrics such as "I just can't stay till you're gone. I won't wish you well; I won't see you off. I won't try to call, if I see you in my mind, I'll say to you 'it's not your fault.' You said I'll see you in September, but that's not long enough for me." Who's dreaming of revenge? Kaki King must be, as the lyrics on the four vocalized tracks on Revenge have a common theme of extreme dislike (if not hate) toward that special someone who set her off.

However, her lyrics aren't the only thing that haunts the CD. Much of the album daunted by a slightly eerie feel that permeates throughout the incredulous melodies and soundscapes, giving the CD a Nick Drake-worthy feeling of morose embitterment and sadness.

The truly amazing feat of Revenge being that it does so without feeling over-emphasized and forced. King's breathtaking melodies swirl over your head with an almost primal majesty, causing you to analyze your own thoughts of revenge and anger.

Such is the brilliance of Revenge. King manages to create an incredibly challenging album that flows with a more convincing precision than most rivers. The dreamy production only adds to emphasize her technical prowess, creating a layered and welcoming sound that is both alluring and compelling.

Certainly an adventure for the broken hearted or at least those who aren't in a particularly happy place- Dreaming of Revenge is easily the best in an already incredible body of work from King. And also one of the best (mostly) instrumental albums in years.