Music News

King Kong

Careers in music are seldom predictable, but Ethan Buckler's has been weirder than most. He first kicked up dust among underground types in the late '80s as a member of Slint, a Louisville, Kentucky, art-noise outfit whose influence continues to linger. The band broke up around 10 years ago, but Buckler had already split by then in favor of King Kong, an act that preferred quirky dance beats and quirkier lyrics to slabs of sound. The group garnered a cult following, thanks to platters such as 1993's Funny Farm and 1995's Me Hungry, a concept album that tells a tender tale of love between a caveman and a yak. By decade's end, though, King Kong was in limbo, and Buckler's main gig was as a dishwasher. Nice work if you can get it.

Fortunately, The Big Bang, King Kong's return, is as twisted as anyone dared hope. Assisted by longtime associates Willy MacLean, Ray Rizzo and Amy Partin, with production assistance from Pussy Galore/Royal Trux grad Neil Michael Hagerty, Buckler hosts a decidedly low-tech tour of outer space. First up is the title track, which consists entirely of the words "King Kong" as repeated through the world's cheapest voice synthesizer. That's followed by a collection of sci-fi riffs and space burbles dubbed "What Lies Beyond?" ("Mystery," Buckler answers); "Deep Blue Sky," which is distinguished by a modest groove and Partin's childlike background vocals; the purposefully dense "Black Hole"; and "Planet Kong on the Radar Screen," in which Buckler announces, "I have come to be the king/I'm not alone in this whole thing." His offer is willingly accepted during "We Are the People of Kong," and on the concluding tune, "Life," he takes command, telling his minions: "Carry out your mission or fail." That pretty much covers the possibilities, doesn't it?

Those unfortunate listeners who don't respond to absurdist humor delivered in a deadpan style are sure to view The Big Bang as one of the stupidest albums they've ever heard but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Buckler is on a long, strange trip, and as with any journey, it's more fun when everyone is looking forward to the ride.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently oversees Westword's news blog.
Contact: Michael Roberts