CD review: Kaki King, Junior

Sometimes artists try too hard to revolutionize themselves, and as a result, the changes they make sound forced. Though some of her new material is familiarly expressive - that enigmatic and mesmerizingly shapeable mass of notes - such is the case with Kaki King’s fifth full-length album, Junior (Rounder).

King’s guitar skills are unmatched. After listening to 30 seconds of any track on any album, this is an obvious fact. The woman can finger pick and fret-tap her instrument into a whirlwind of melodic percussion so well that you have no idea what you’re listening to – it’s Rolling Stone’s first female "Rock God" shredding mere notes on a page into unforgettable sounds, that’s what. It is disappointing that this sparse and incredibly emotive instrumental style is lost on Junior.

Typical of albums produced in the aftermath of personal crisis, a blend of tension, frustration, heartbreak, bitterness, and the ever-distant possibility of happiness overwhelms the tracks – an often claustrophobic miasma of depression and anger too palpable for one sitting. Plus, King is a player, not a singer, and her undisciplined voice gets an unfortunate spotlight. The gnashing mixture of King’s spitting lyrics and her band’s simplistic, punk-influenced jams like “Falling Day”, “Death Head”, and “The Betrayer” – which opens the album on a startling harsh note – remind the listener that though King’s technical mastery is evident, she expects us to follow her through the five stages of post-relationship grief. Consequently, the album feels bipolar and un-Kaki.

Some of Junior is a welcome addition to King’s repertoire, and it is these moments that make Junior worth experiencing. Her instrumental wizardry is a thing to behold, and the gems (notably “My Nerves That Committed Suicide”) hidden between unimpressive songs should be enough to hook a potential listener.

Three stars.

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