Canadian turntablist goes to meet the devil down by the crossroads.
Stevie Chick 2012
“The blues is not like a plaything, like some people think they are,” croaks Delta blues legend Son House across the opening track of Kid Koala’s fifth album. Lord knows what he would’ve made of 12 Bit Blues – a blues record unlike pretty much any other. Though it’s likely he saw it coming somehow: “Youngsters today will take anything and make the blues out of it,” he says on 1 Bit Blues.
That Vancouver-born Koala is behind such a singular project is no surprise. Where his contemporaries dig through crates of dusty records in search of breakbeats, grooves and licks, Koala favours weird sounds, voices and ambience unlocked from more unusual relics: comedy and kids albums, soundtrack recordings and other oddities. He brings them back to life in bizarre, hilarious and often surreal combinations.
Koala’s kept his more gonzo vinyl in the box this time round, lifting only from scratchy old blues records, isolating the crying guitar breaks, droll piano lines, knowing horn blurts and soulful wails and croaks and reassembling them as new entries in the blues canon.
Armed with an SP-1200 – the primitive sampler that powered 80s hip hop – Koala "plays" these samples on the drum-pads, lending his bluesy lopes an agreeably ramshackle groove.
What results is a beguiling mutant form of blues, like the genre’s staggering drunk through a circus hall of mirrors. On 3 Bit Blues, a low-down slither is topped by twisted guitar breaks, melting harmonica wails and desolate, disembodied gospel cries. It’s deliciously dark, and begs your feet to stomp along.
On 5 Bit Blues, stammering piano rolls and bleak sax phrases conjure an exquisite past-midnight mourn, as a whiskey-steeped voice sings at half-speed of “enough trouble to make a poor man wonder why”.
For all Koala’s manipulations, the human quality of those voices, recontextualised several ways, remains intact; the grain of their sadness, their soulfulness, always shows through.
It makes for a very unusual blues record that’s also a very unusual Kid Koala record, putting aside his typical playfulness and reminding us that he can truly move us with his turntablism, as well as amuse. Son House would probably approve.