August 19, 2004

Kaki King "Everybody Loves You"

The most shocking thing about Everybody Loves You, 24-year-old guitarist Kaki King’s jaw-dropping debut album of original compositions, is the lone instrumental credit that appears in the liner notes:

“Kaki King, guitar”

This is shocking because when the opening track “Kewpie Station” begins, you’ll think that you’re hearing an upright bass being played with spoons. When you listen to “Carmine Street,” you’ll think that you’re hearing two guitarists playing separate lead and rhythm parts, with a third person accompanying them on bongos. When a series of whirring noises enters in the middle of that same song, you’ll think that you’re listening to a bit of tape manipulation. When you hear “Close Your Eyes and Burst Into Flames,” you’ll think that you’re hearing DJ Takemura doing incredibly fast cutups of acoustic guitar samples. You will NOT think that any of this is being done live in the studio by one woman with one guitar.

Through alternate tunings and a bottomless supply of extended guitar techniques, from fleet-fingered picking to two-handed tapping to percussive beating, Kaki King expands the vocabulary of the acoustic guitar in ways I’ve never heard before. However, not all of these songs are showcases of pure technical ability. King is just as good of a writer as she is a player, and her less extreme songs have melodies that will get stuck in your head after a couple of listens. I’m particularly fond the speedy swing tempo and chiming guitar harmonics of “Steamed Juicy Little Bun.” Another album highlight is “Joi,” a moody and extremely de-tuned piece that makes the most of blues-like string bends and dynamic changes.

I’m not going to be a Smug Rock Critic and pretend that I have a strong working knowledge of experimental acoustic guitar playing. The only precedent that I can find for Everybody Loves You in my own record collection is Gastr del Sol’s quieter moments, and Kaki’s music is light years even beyond that. I’ve never heard a Leo Kottke record, and I own only a couple of recent John Fahey records. Someone who knows more about that sort of music might not think Kaki’s doing anything that novel. For me, though, this album has the same shock of the new that greeted me when I heard artists like My Bloody Valentine and Oval for the first time. Who knows? I think this woman has the potential to release an album that will do for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? did for the electric guitar…that is, if Everybody Loves You isn’t ALREADY that album.

---Sean Padilla

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