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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    String Theory – Guitar Geekism: A Strange Love

    With the release of Kaki King’s newest album, ”hellip;Until We Felt Red,’ in August 2006, guitar nerds across America watched their poster girl – the object of their affection – slip through their fingers. She had fallen out of love with that crowd, and set out to find something more genuine: an affair where she could be appreciated for the woman (musician) that she truly is.

    The fact is, a young woman on stage tapping out furious virtuoso masterworks on acoustic guitar can be very easily mistaken for a freak show – and her first two albums, ‘Everybody Loves You’ and ‘Legs to Make Us Longer,’ largely were. Professional guitar nerds would pack out the front of her performances to gawk at her fingers; there was the ‘how does she do it?’ factor. They came to see the magician reveal her tricks.

    Guitar nerds, for all their enthusiasm, are barely a legitimate sub-class of musician. They’re the people who learned the solo from ‘Stairway’ in high school so they could invite themselves to your house for a ‘jam session’ and play it. They’d love to bring their guitar into the cafeteria and ‘shred’ some classical B.S. while you were trying to listen to your CD player. They’d assemble a band of geeks two weeks before the ‘battle of the bands’ and have the nerve to play ‘Hotel California.’ Now, they’re the ones who videotape themselves sitting on their beds playing ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’ so they can post it on YouTube. For these crimes, they can barely be considered artists. Hell, they barely have a pulse.

    My friend Rob always put it the best. He’d catch me watching some YouTube herb in the thralls of some masturbatory exercise, playing the theme from Mario Brothers on two different guitars at once, and he’d set me straight. ‘That’s not music,’ he’d say. ‘That’s Evil Knievel jumping the f-king Grand Canyon.’ Rob may have saved my integrity.

    Poor Kaki King, though, was different than the clowns in that networked video circus. She was mistaken by the drooling masses as a fellow nerd. They obsessed over the engineering of her songs, the technical points. Throughout all their wide-eyed note-taking, they missed the point: King’s music has depth. It has beauty and tact and self-control. It’s composed. To watch her and see just another Yngwie Malmsteen is to be blind. Musically blind (deaf?), at least. A Malmsteen performance is a spectator sport – it’s about the physics of the action. If you’re listening to a Malmsteen recording, you’re either dreamily envisioning yourself playing the music, or studying the technique. The experience is fundamentally different from something conventionally ‘musical.’

    After two albums, King grew tired of her names – things like ‘that tapping girl,’ ‘guitar god’ (Rolling Stone) and even ‘Queen of the acoustic guitar’ (NPR). ”hellip;Until We Felt Red’ was an overt act of rebellion – an attempt to shed her reputation among a specific fan demographic because they weren’t giving her the right kind of loving. First of all, many of them were simply fascinated by the novelty of a female guitar virtuoso. Secondly, they would probably rather watch a ten-minute tight shot of her hands than listen to one of her albums start to finish.

    So, King’s newest release ditches finger-tapping for drones, arpeggios, and various shoegaze elements. She has transformed her one-woman guitar act into something like a band; she’s added keyboard and drums on some songs, at least. Most importantly, she sings. Her voice, breathy and atmospheric, lends a new dimension to her music: it’s no longer about the technical musicianship, but about the song itself.

    ”hellip;Until We Felt Red’ includes its fair share of instrumental tracks. However, the guitars are largely electric, and the music is layered and produced in a way uncharacteristic of the young musician – the goal is atmosphere. The result is a gloriously ‘dumbed-down’ version of King’s music. She’s not holding back – she’s just redirecting her enormous talent. The simplified beauty of the album allows us to see her previous works in a whole new light.

    King’s efforts show us how much of music’s message is in the ear of the beholder. Her music deserved to be taken seriously all along, simply because it sounded beautiful over our headphones (unlike stuff by someone ridiculous, like, say, Steve Vai). However, the natural theatrics of her playing were too much for us – we couldn’t get down to the music underneath. So, with her third album, she gracefully thrust it into our faces. In doing so, she exemplifies the way in which an artist can maintain her poise while reacting to the environment forged by audiences and critics.

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