On his debut long player, Kid Koala, the 26-year-old Canadian turntablist wunderkind, takes the usual stacks of instructional records, comedy LPs and obscure grooves and assembles them by hand -- no computer sequencing -- into something both amusing and technically dazzling. It's a demonstration of technique so crafted that, if DJs are the new generation's guitar heroes, Koala's licks will probably be copped by every noodler at the shopping-mall turntable store.
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The Kid (born Eric San) has opened for the likes of the Beastie Boys, as well as flexing his skills on Prince Paul and Automator's recent Handsome Boy Modeling School record. The ability to get the wicka-wickas to fall in line with his dense sound collages is simultaneously more cerebral and goofier than either of those heavyweights of hip-hop. The Kid has as much in common with the surgical precision of turntablist crews such as the X-ecutioners or the Invisibl Skratch Piklz as he does the Chris Elliott-inspired humor of Modeling School.
At its best, Carpal Tunnel matches the loping grooves to loopy dialogue. On "Barhopper 2," Koala drops in advice from a How to Score With Ladies record on top of laid-back, precoital porn-music groove. As bad pickup lines fade in and out, Koala scratches some of the dialogue until the men seem like clueless predators as the objects of their affection respond with things like, "I'm sorry, do I know you?" It's the funky juxtaposition of the horny music and crestfallen suitors that leaves listeners equally entranced with both.
Still, with everybody and his kid brother putting out a DJ record, this album (four years in the making) isn't as stunning as one might have hoped -- perhaps Koala's guest appearances built up too much hype. The flow is often lost to a silly dialogue snippet (from Revenge of the Nerds or a video-game "how-to" record) or obscured by Koala's admittedly astonishing scratching skills. But while technically interesting, his compositional skills seem to be given short shrift. When he finds a balance between the two, it's striking, such as on the aptly titled "Drunk Trumpet." With a simple Blue Note jazz-style record as the bed, Koala weaves a trumpet melody in and out of the mix -- scratching, cross-fading, speeding up and slowing down -- until the horn bit sounds like a whining keyboard or a tuba. Meanwhile, the dialogue snippets continue less obtrusively as the trumpet record is slowed to a downward spiraling moan. It's sonic indulgence to be sure, but it works.
With a greater balance, Carpal Tunnel could've been dazzling, but the repetitive-stress-injury-inducing scratch and tweak style just doesn't hold up as the whole basis for the record.