Listen to this song by guitar-shredding wunderkind, and singer-songwriter Kaki King. It’s “The Betrayer”, a tale of shadowy double-dealings that serves as the opening track to 2010’s Junior, her fifth record.
The Delete Bin is a songs blog. And so it was very hard for me to choose a representative track from an artist who changes course from record to record, and from song to song, offering a wide range of styles and approaches even on a single album; folk, neo-classical, rock, post-rock, prog.
But, where this is often the symptom of an artist who hasn’t found her voice, here I think it’s the case of a spectrum of talent that is wider than most, with an associated artistic hunger to explore. Her own work, plus collaborations with acts as diverse as Foo Fighters, Timbaland, and The Mountain Goats certainly bears this out.
This track comes out of an interest in the songwriting side of her talents, with her formidable skills as a guitarist supporting it. And lyrically and thematically speaking, this particular song touches on another personal interest, too.
Kaki King cut this record with the help of producer Malcolm Burn (Emmylou Harris, Iggy Pop, John Mellencamp, and formerly of Boys Brigade, Can-con fans!), with two other musicians; multi-instrumentalist Dan Brantigan and drummer Jordan Perlson.
This opening track shows their full assault as a trio, and also sheds some light on King’s interest in spy story imagery, with references to Headquarters, borders on alert, safe houses, and changed names suggesting something out of a John LeCarre novel. Actually, this song was inspired by Kaki’s reading of Ben McIntyre’s Agent Zigzag, a tale of a double-agent during World War II. And where the espionage imagery is pretty upfront in this song, one gets the impression that the imagery is decorative, and that the theme of betrayal here is more about a universal experience in every day relationships.
In this, “The Betrayer” can be looked upon as a love song, or as a love-gone-wrong song. Yet, I think this song touches on something beyond that still. It’s a song about identity, with some identities being more honest than others. It’s about how each manifestation of ourselves as they relate to another, or as they cancel each other out, sometimes comes at cost to other people in our lives.
This theme of identity can also be more widely related to King’s artistic approach to her work, taking on multiple roles, multiple styles, and not allowing herself to be labelled stylistically. She escapes being penned by making each record she puts out sound different, and in juxtaposing individual songs in them too. Through this, Kaki King’s work achieves a certain clarity of purpose, even if it often escapes unity of style. Like a spy undercover, she’s pretty elusive, and yet it’s hard to resist her obvious appeal.
Kaki King has recently released her follow-up album to Junior last month on October 9, Glow.
Buy that record, and find more about her at kakiking.com.