Arish Ahmad “King” Khan is that guy: the one who scours the classic-rock bargain bins no one else touches, who then goes home and writes one song for every vaguely unfamiliar sound he hears, trying to emulate it all. This isn’t novel stuff – the same can be said of many record-geek garage-rock frontmen – but it helps that Khan is an unforgettable personality to boot, which is apparent in his onstage sartorial preferences (or lack thereof) and in the strong will he exhibits on his latest LP.
2007’s What Is?! was a roaring slab of bar chords and tectonic rhythmic work, but Khan and the nine-piece Shrines up the ante as far as fidelity and musicianship go on the follow-up, Idle No More. In addition to being a contender for garage-rock album of the year hook for hook, chord progression for chord progression, there are lots of strong personal touches here: the crybaby wah that drives opener “Bad Boy”, the squiggly guitar solos, careening horns that could have been on Springsteen’s second album, even a Charles Mingus freakout to start “Of Madness I Dream”. More impressive than any of that, though, is that this is a jubilant album on the whole, even though it’s rooted in personal crisis.
Khan recently told SPIN that merely completing Idle No More was a major personal milestone, its very existence in jeopardy after he lost three of his best friends (one of them Jay Reatard) and fell victim to subsequent, mournful drug abuse. Without knowing the backstory, it might be hard to negotiate lines like, “There is darkness in every inch of my veins/ In every pleasure, in every pain.” Yet when he sings them as self-parody on the Nina Simone pastiche “Darkness”, it’s winsome (if unsurprising) how he embraces those feelings and pokes fun at himself at the same time, an accomplishment that goes far beyond crate digging.
Essential Tracks: “So Wild”, “Pray for Lil”, and “I Got Made”