Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kaki King: Legs to Make Us Longer (2004)



By her music's very nature, Kaki King tends to slip into the background, which is not a criticism -- so did Brian Eno, quite intentionally. But as with Eno, until you sit down and concentrate fully on one of her complete albums, you likely neglect to notice just how formidable and unique a talent she truly is. No one disputes at this point that she is one of the era's best guitarists, and she does more with this technical proficiency than almost anyone ever has. Her lyricism is in a class with the likes of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd from Television, but her application of those gifts reminds me of no one so much as Dick Dale -- the playfulness, the spirit, and the quiet but ruthless command of center stage with nothing but the wild and engaging and frequently breathtaking sounds she can wring from a guitar, most often (more remarkably yet) acoustically. It's exciting enough just to watch her play, almost to the point of distraction; listen to the records to discover how creative she really is.

King's second album, which makes compositional and technical leaps over her first while retaining its directness, adds a full band but still communicates largely in a whisper, except when King periodically feels more noise is warranted. That includes the beautifully busy, almost manic "Playing with Pink Noise," which in its way is just as intense as a concentrated hypnosis like "Can the Gwot Save Us?" -- however many elements King adds to her sound, intimacy is still paramount, far more than any fawning over her astounding high-level technique; unlike so many guitar heroes, she shirks anything that amounts to mere showboating and always serves the song or tone of the moment. The ideas can flash on and off like the opening two-minute slide "Frame" or can transform and build and vary wildly like the brilliant "Lies," which never rests for even a moment but also never sounds strung together or unstructured.

There are no weak moments to be found on this record, but it's a goldmine of atmospheres that can change the color of a room and can even lull you into a gazing, tranced-out peace. Boredom never comes; there's too much warmth, mystery and romance in even a creation as deliberate as "Doing the Wrong Thing" -- which puts weight behind every note and equal weight behind the silences -- for it not to charge and challenge, even if subtly. There are boring technical reasons for why this record feels even stronger than its fine predecessor, and many of King's subsequent efforts -- the tracks are individually distinctive but cohere very smoothly into one another, and each seems reflective of careful enough planning that a lesser artist might find them constraining; the ambient production and arrangements are tasteful and use their extra palette of sounds sparingly -- but this sort of weighty, driving beauty comes from the soul and from King following her obviously restless but deeply giving instincts.

She vocalizes a bit on "My Insect Life," near the end, but even then this is a record of nothing but pure melody and texture washing over you. It might give you pause on, say, the midsections of "Magazine" and "Lies" to have it occur to you just how incredible King is at what she does, but mostly this record is a gift of drifting and receding. Its pleasures are difficult to articulate, but they are -- sincerely -- almost innumerable, and usually breathtaking.

Everybody Loves You (2003)

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