Kaki King: Junior

It isn’t as extreme as when, say, Michael Jordan embarrassed himself on the baseball field, but there is a noticeable discrepancy between Kaki King’s instrumental prowess and her abilities on the microphone. This became apparent when the guitar virtuoso made her vocals more prominent on 2008’s Dreaming Of Revenge, and now it’s inescapable on her fifth album, which finds King’s voice on nine of 11 tracks. That said, it’s difficult to argue with the places King took her music on her last three discs, which feature lots of beautiful tunes that are moody, atmospheric, and sometimes downright catchy. Her strong grasp of pop structures flourished since she started making things more accessible on 2006’s …Until We Felt Red, and these days, she’s simply writing the type of songs that demand vocals. But in lowering the bar a bit to offer indie-rockers something to dance to—her fingers are still nimble on Junior, but this is hardly guitar-god stuff—King has given herself artistic license to make do with a voice that just isn’t strong enough to keep up with all the interesting things going on around it. It’s no surprise that Junior’s best moment is the instrumental “My Nerves That Committed Suicide,” whose mid-song buildup rivals Sigur Rós’ epic moves, though honorable mention goes to the simultaneously revved-up and dreamy “Death Head,” which sounds like a reaction to that Bubonix cover she was doing a couple of years back. If King doesn’t want to work on those vocals, maybe she should start a hardcore band.

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