You may have heard of Kaki King, a.k.a Katherine King, from the 2008 movie August Rush, for which she provided the on-screen hands and talent for the main guitar-playing character. Or you may have heard of her rather unique skills that allow her to play the guitar in mind-boggling ways.
She is able to weave in guitar-tapping, plucking, and other unconventional methods of playing the instrument so effortlessly, that one can safely say there’s no other female musician quite like her. On her fifth studio album Junior, Kaki King provides the listener with a thoroughly engaging rock record that showcases her delicate-yet-firm vocals.
Junior album cover.
From the enigmatic first song itself (‘The Betrayer’), one can grasp why this highly gifted musician has captured the awe of other musical heavyweights such as Dave Grohl. This song cleverly tells the story of a murderer on the run (“Somehow you’ve been exposed / Headquarters thinks the case is closed”), interspersed with the trademark melodramatic King lines. Clean and crisp, ‘Spit It Back in My Mouth’ shows off more of her deft touch, against the backdrop of her airy and often-saccharine voice.
The macabre-tinged ‘Falling Day’ provides an incessant and catchy chorus-hook, and in general a sound that’s meant to fill up an arena. King trades in her electric guitar for an acoustic one on the gentle ‘The Hoopers of Hospeth’, whose general feeling of melancholy brings to mind the ditties of The Decemberists, albeit with the ethereal voice of Kaki King. ‘Communist Friends’ plays out like a better produced Neutral Milk Hotel song, perhaps, with its lines of potent yearning (“Where are you / When I need you?”) that are inflected with just the right amount of melancholy to bring Jeff Magnum to mind.
‘Hallucinations from My Poisonous German Streets’ swirls inscrutably until almost the end, where the drummer leads into an unexpected drum solo. The fast-paced ‘Death Head’ churns with the panic of losing your loved one after a traumatic road accident, tinged (as always) with melodramatic melancholy. Junior closes with ‘Sunnyside’, which is also lyrically the best song on this album. On this song, Kaki King plaintively pleads her ex-girlfriend to “swim beyond the waves”, talking perhaps of the turmoil that they faced as a couple, with a Gregory and the Hawk-like earnestness. However, it is in essence a breakup song, and King makes that clear (“But good luck on finding someone / Who can love you better than I”).
The best songs on the album, however, are undoubtedly the three instrumental tracks, for it is here that Kaki King adequately shows off the talents that earned her superlative accolades from the likes of Rolling Stone. The luxuriant ‘Everything Has an End, Even Sadness’ boasts a lyrical elegance matching that of the best post-rock bands. ‘My Nerves That Committed Suicide’ is more reflective, and more introspective. In the beautiful ‘Sloan Shore’, Kaki King manages to put together dream-pop piano and harp-like guitar, and work them into an almost cinematic sophistication.
Overall, Junior does not disappoint. It’s good for many listens, but therein lies the catch — it’s just good, which is less than what you’d expect from Kaki King. The album doesn’t have enough of the innovative guitar-playing that she is best known for, but it doesn’t disappoint, either. Give it a listen.