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King Khan and the Shrines - Idle No More LP
Strangely dormant since 2007's sweaty soul party What Is?!, psychedelic garage rock masters King Khan & the Shrines return with the more refined but equally fun and frantic Idle No More. Khan still performed in his more stripped-down duo, the King Khan & BBQ Show, a parade of hyper, vulgar, garage rock with like-minded guttersnipe Mark Sultan, but the horn sections, organ blares, and soul-drenched garage freakouts of the Shrines were on hold, as they built steam for this powerhouse of a record. Despite some undercurrents of political sentiment (the title references a Canadian environmental activism group), this is a rock record first and foremost, burying any messages in a maelstrom of driving psych-soul on par with the best moments of an imagined jam session where the Seeds back up Otis Redding with help from Nashville session players circa 1967 blasting out the horns. The album begins with its most spaced-out number, "Born to Die," a funky psych jam that marries wild wah-wah guitar in a 5th Dimension-era Byrds jangle rock style to an ominously funky rhythm section. Khan's voice has always been roughly soulful, but the highly orchestrated string sections, blasts of brass and 60's pop touches that fill up Idle No More, bring out his soulful strains in ways other projects haven't. Whether he's running through a Stax/Volt-styled soul rave-up like "Luckiest Man," or taking the energy down a notch with a grim falsetto on the dirgy ballad "Darkness," Khan sells his presence as frontman with humor, guts, and endless energy. His performances capture his personality more than any technical aspects, which ultimately don't matter much in the big, colorful sonic picture that is Idle No More. At times, the political and personal content of the songs comes through more overtly. "Yes I Can't" addresses the shortcomings of Obama's presidency, mocking his "Yes We Can" campaign slogan. Elsewhere, "So Wild" is a sad-hearted eulogy to deceased friend Jay Reatard, recalling the fast-lived life that ended too soon with floating Farfisa organ and slick guitar leads. Throughout the album, bright, perfectly compressed horn sections punctuate every verse and chorus. Though the party is dialed back and more restrained than on previous efforts, it's no less wild and maybe even more enjoyable as a result. Khan seems at his least blurry, focusing on delivering an album of coherent and unexpectedly beautiful sentiments with all the rock & roll power that's made him one of his generation's great frontmen.