Five albums into her career, guitar virtuoso Kaki King is starting to show signs of fatigue. Having made the most technically accomplished (Everybody Loves You), epically spacey (…Until We Felt Red), and straight up catchy (Dreaming of Revenge) albums of her career, perhaps she was about due. While her new release Junior is by no means a bad album, it does fall short of the quality standard she has established for herself.
Part of this comes from King’s shift away from her strengths – namely, less guitar. Everybody Loves You showcased her knack for a percussive style, one that emphasized slapping and fret tapping over power chords, but since then, she’s downplayed that style in favor of more indie rock fare, even fronting an actual band on guitar and vocals. But King’s talents as a singer and lyricist aren’t quite on par with her guitar skills, which sink Junior a little.
Admittedly, the record starts out fine. The first four tracks sound like Dreaming leftovers – kind of ambient yet catchy and self-contained. But then “The Hoopers of Hudspeth” goes for a slower acoustic style, but it’s mostly filler. Follow-up “My Nerves That Committed Suicide” bites Red’s style a little too much.
The album’s second half features two strong, pissed off tracks, though. The post-punk-y “Death Head” sounds like early Bloc Party, while closer “Sunnyside” finds King getting painfully, earnestly, angrily direct about getting rejected by an ungrateful lover. It’s not quite as nuanced as the work she did with The Mountain Goats for Black Pear Tree, but man does it hit hard.
Ultimately, there are enough good songs on Junior to warrant a stellar EP. As is, though, this 11 track collection will disappoint fans. While it’s not the worst place for newcomers to enter King’s discography (that would be Legs to Make Us Longer), I’ve already named three others that outpace Junior in every essential way. This one strikes a decent holding pattern, but it’s still just a holding pattern.