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The King Cobra - The King Cobra

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Artist: The King Cobra

Album: The King Cobra

Label: Troubleman Unlimited

Review date: Mar. 2, 2004

Somewhere in the annals of Tape-Op magazine a long debate occurred between writers over the merit of Steely Dan. Three camps emerged from this high-pitched scuffle. One believed that Steely Dan just plain sucked. Another thought that Steely Dan’s songs were angelic and masterful, but the music suffered from an excess of studio-crafted cheese. The last camp held that the music and the medium were inseparable and both deserved the highest praise. A détente was never reached, and like the effect of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact on the last remnants of the Popular Front, Steely Dan’s Grammy win further splintered this once tightly-knit community.

Obviously the production of music contributes to our experience of it. Listening to the London Symphony Orchestra play “Street Fighting Man” is quite a change from the original. The debate over Steely Dan boiled down to a discussion of essentialism in art: does a song exist outside of its performance? While a musician’s intentions may bow towards heaven, inept production can destine it for the shit-pile. As the literati at Tape-Op disclose, good recording is partly a matter of taste. Yet, when a record such as The King Cobra’s self-titled EP goes for the uppercut but only lands a jab, sureties must be put forward.

The musicians deserve praise; Tara Jane O’Neil (ex-Rodan) alone has done her share in creating the indie lexicon. Teamed with guitarist Betsy Kwo, O’Neil rattles off songs that are interesting enough – part Scissor Girls, stoner metal, and 2112-era Rush. But what could have been dynamic, however, is flatly recorded and poorly presented.

The opening track, “March on Pompeii,” aims to be a powerhouse of epic proportions (the title gives a hint), and a push towards the sonic palette of any of the three points mentioned above would have been welcome. Instead, the complexity and clever riffs are lost, the double bass drum thunder echoes dull thuds, and the vocals drug through a muddy field. What results is something so mild even Kill Rock Stars would be embarrassed putting it out. Given Troubleman Unlimited’s tendency to push the envelope on production with many in its stellar roster, this release surprises in its aural mediocrity. An EP should not be an excuse for monotony (although it holds this place in rock more often than not). Instead, this writer found himself looking at the clock ten minutes into the album. San Francisco, where is thy sting?

By Kevan Harris

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