Titling your album Junior could be deemed as self-effacing, or perhaps infer an element of learning, something that Atlanta-born singer/songwriter Kaki King admitted as much, revealing that making Junior made her feel “like a little kid or novice…that I was starting something again”. The maturing leaps and bounds King has achieved since her 2003 debut Everybody Loves You, revealed an artist thriving on experimentation and self-expression, so it’s not surprising that King has maintained this approach with her fifth album Junior.
Mexican Teenagers, King’s stop-gap EP of 2009 felt like a precursor of what to expect, its tracks a mixture of instrumental antagonism that were loud, abrasive and ungainly, giving the impression that this songstress was shedding her skin in ways that fans of Dreaming of Revenge (King’s last full-length) were unlikely to have anticipated. Junior retains obvious elements of both — the introspection of Revenge met with the aggression of Teenagers yet this only accounts for a small sum of the parts.
With failed relationships being the focal point of Dreaming of Revenge, the driving tension of lead track “The Betrayer”, could be seen, and indeed read as a further response, but lyrically the track is inspired by a true story about an English double agent in World War 2, King writing herself into the role — “I’ve become someone else/someone new”. The delicately picked pop of “Spit It Back In My Mouth” turns a neat dance/rock trick whilst burying its less than kind message between the jangled chords (“I’m not the friend you should lean on”). The synth-assisted “Falling Day” adopts a similar stance, delivering a more anthemic, airy charge but adopts an equally bleak outlook –“Everything comes from somewhere else/Everyone stays alone”.
In the context of the album, King’s instrumental tracks — “Everything Has An End, Even Sadness” and “My Nerves That Committed Suicide” appear like extended intermissions, atmospherical explorations filled with drama and pathos, but lacking any lyrical grounding. Where these instrumental tracks were once the norm for King, they are more conspicuous now by their presence feeling like, as most instrumental tracks do, unfinished works in progress. Further on, “The Hoopers of Hudspeth” finds King searching the rooms of an old mansion taking a whimsical psychedelic McCartney/Lennon path to get there, and the paint-peeling rock of “Deaths Head” has both feet firmly on the foldback, with hammering riffs and a metallic roar. Not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find her.
The graceful unwind into the dappled waters of “Sloan Shore” and the final bitter fuck-you of “Sunnyside” lends Junior a bucolic, melancholic finish that is perhaps ironic in the sense that there is rarely a “Sunnyside” to King’s work, recalling a famous quote from Elvis Costello, that the two motivating factors behind any decent songwriter are revenge and guilt, and it seems King takes this to heart. It’s hard not to feel the need to elevate King into the status of a modern alternative popstar, albeit one with an unnatural ability on the guitar and a desire to say what you mean and mean what you say. Junior has shown how adaptable in style and how accomplished King can be at anything you could throw at her, and anything she could throw at herself.