Ko – [Album]

Monday, 14 September 2009

If music is the food of life but every second of an album chronicles one man's struggles with addiction, might said record be considered a gateway drug? This is the sort of  question that comes to mind as a listener is ensnared by the answering machine message that opens Ko's debut album, Let's Blaze. The message – apparently left in voice mail by a social worker at the rehab center in which Ko (nee Ko Kapches) was kept in order to sweat out a horrible cure (it's also where most of Let's Blaze was written) – opens Let's Blaze and it actually an excellent pre-cursor to the music that follows it; in those thirteen following tracks, Ko artfully outlines the ways and means by which he got clean and strikes some remarkably vivid and well-crafted images made incredible when one takes into account that it's Ko's first release.

Even which that introduction made though, at some point listeners will wonder what exactly it is they're hearing. Let's Blaze doesn't play like the run-of-the-mill 'getting sober' record at all; unlike those glossy, tongue-in-cheek and bad-metaphor-laden albums by singers like Amy Winehouse and the dozens of other substance-addled singers that have gone public with their addictions over the last couple of years, you can actually hear Ko reaching desperately in songs like “Moving Mountains,” “Miss U,” “Drunk” and “Capable” for any distraction that will keep his mind occupied and so help to keep him clean. He sees people and realizes that he has probably abused them in one or several ways at one point (“Miss U”), he sees loss and the regret of it (“Capable”), the drive to make amends (“Move Mountains”), the initial boredom of sobriety (“Kurt Kobain”) and the omni-present threat of a relapse (the whole album) and speaks with knee-buckling candor about it all in a voice miraculously not ravaged by th fall-out of his addiction.

This is a more honest exhibition of addiction and the uphill battle to overcome it than has been released in years – if not ever.

As dark as the subject matter gets though, the foil to it lies in the rootsy, R&B-touched hip hop music upon which it sits. While the customary practice has always been to situate feelings of addiction and withdrawal in pop alongside wildly over-aggressive tendencies (see Butthole Surfers), mawkish and tongue-in-cheek pop (see Amy Winehouse) or folk as hollow and wooden-sounding as the arms of the junkie playing it tend to look, Ko's lush and nimble styling is not overly adorned, nor is it overdone; it is a plain-faced account made inviting by the soul of Kapches' voice and his willingness to play with his music – by injecting the different ideas and against-form sonic motifs (when was the last time you heard Kurt Cobain's name in an R&B tune?) into the songs – rather than against it; that would make it all sound muddled.

Beyond that though, it'll be interesting to see where Ko goes next from a thematic standpoint with his music. Prior to the release of Let's Blaze, the pop convention has always been to build a name and break out before complicating matters and risking collapse with addiction, Ko is in a different place from all of that; he had his troubles and came out a survivor before his debut came out – and then he sang about it to purge the demons. Now, the field is wide open for Ko and, having already survived rock bottom, the only place to go is up; Let's Blaze is step one of that ascent.



Ko – “Capable” – Let's Burn


Let's Blaze is available on Amazon now as a Canadian import. Buy it here .

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