Kaki King

Releasing five LPs and three EPs, playing multiple instruments (very well, I might add), and being heralded as one of the greatest musicians of your generation on countless list all by your early 30s could get a little overwhelming for anyone, but Kaki King has not only done all of the above, she also just added being married to that list when she tied the knot with her girlfriend in NYC last week. Then today, she released her new album, Glow. Busy lady, no?

Glow is another musical change of direction for King, which is nothing new for the multi-instrumental composer from Atlanta, GA. Having broken into the music industry on the late night circuit, you might have seen her on Late Night with Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Kimmel Live rhythmically slapping and banging on her guitar, raking the strings, and hammering onto full chords. Up until that point, most of America had never seen a musician play guitar in this manner, let alone a female musician, and her appearances were spectacles more than they were performances.

King’s second LP, Legs to Make Us Longer, instantly gained critical acclaim, and a lasting fan base was built for an artist who wouldn’t compromise her artistic vision for the sake of continuity. …Until We Felt Red, King’s third LP, marked the first time fans heard the artist use vocals on one of her albums, as well as the first album on which she played instruments besides guitar. The album was a major leap musically for the artist, as she switched from mostly beat-driven rhythmic acoustic guitar playing to her take on a traditional band formation.

King’s next album once again showed us that she would not remain stagnant in one style. Showcasing everything from Southern swing jazz to alternative rock to a little psych rock, Dreaming of Revenge was just another example of the virtuoso growing before our very eyes. Two EPs later (including one with the Mountain Goats), she was ready to completely change her style again.

With Junior, King brought back the vocals and kept the electric guitar edge of Dreaming of Revenge. With much more of a surf indie rock feeling, the album is probably King’s most accessible release to date for the casual music listener. That’s not to say that Junior is bad, by any means. In fact, one of my favorite songs from King — “Death Head” — is on this album, and it shows that this elegant women who can tap and beat on her guitar while still managing to finger jazz scales also has this undefined love of raw-sounding, power-groove rock music.

So by the time I heard about King’s new album, Glow, it was hard not to wonder if it was going to be Middle Eastern acoustic grindcore or something equally insane. Over her past few releases, she had been developing her sound and adding unique layers to each new release, progressively getting more and more electronic and straying from the acoustic sound. Looking back now after hearing Glow, it would be easy to say that I saw it coming, but I don’t think I did.

Glow is not a regression nor is it a progression. It is a study in love. Stripping down the electronic sound that King has built over the past few years, Glow comes off as a warm, inviting record. A level of maturity and compassion can be heard in the album, with the track “Fences” sounding like it is waking up in the morning and hugging the sun, while “Fire Eater” explores the sonic peaks and valleys of stringed acoustic music.

The album touches on all forms of acoustic music, including Celtic, Asian, Russian, Southern, Middle Eastern, and jazz, and about half way through Glow, it starts to give off this very strange world music vibe, not because the rhythm is pulsing, but because the music is influenced by so many cultures and techniques that it begins to sound worldly.

It’s a return to instrumental music for Kaki King that will leave you breathless at moments and have you dancing in your room, reaching for the ceiling, the next. “King Pizel” is probably my favorite track off the album, along with “Kelvinator, Kelvinator,” and there couldn’t possibly be any two songs on the album that are more different. “Kelvinator, Kelvinator” is a soft, sweeping, ghostly jazz tune that brings me back (sound-wise) to King’s first two LPs. It’s a happy, melody-heavy tune that skips along its progressions and ends almost as abruptly as it starts, while “King Pizel” gives off more of a Renaissance vibe with multi-tracked mandolins and guitars, making it sound at one point as if a choir of stringed instruments are singing in a parade for approaching royalty.

Overall, Glow is an example of how an artist can spend their entire career moving forwards sonically, and then take that one step backward into pure musically nirvana. Glow is a Shangri-La of musical ideas and complex theory, and it is a testimony to one of America’s greatest New Age composers.

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Kaki King