Release Date: Sep 3, 2013
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk, Garage Rock Revival
Born Arish Ahmad Khan and using a number of different monikers on stage, King Khan has re-emerged after losing friends, temporarily splitting from his long time collaborator Mark Sultan (or BBQ as he is known) and battling his inner demons. Prior to all of this, Khan wore the crown as the emperor of soul. His stage shows were (and continue to be) theatrical events created with the spirit of punk with the display of pageantry.
That Idle No More is King Khan and the Shrines' first release since King Khan aka Canada's-but-now-Berlin's Arish Khan recovered from a severe mental breakdown is not only readily apparent, but inseparable from its background. For the most part, each track either directly references his difficult year or is birthed from the crash and resulting rebirth. But perhaps never more so than now, a single song represents the entirety of Khan's current mindset; the closing track "Of Madness I Dream" tells you everything of importance with regard to Khan's battles.
Five years after ‘The Supreme Genius Of King Khan And The Shrines’, musical shaman Arish ‘King’ Khan is back with another triumph. R&B, soul and big band inform ‘Idle No More’, doing away with Khan’s raw garage sound in favour of sharp anthems that ring with brass stabs, hectic basslines and tambourines. Underneath it all Khan tackles big themes: ‘So Wild’ is in memory of Jay Reatard, ‘Luckiest Man’ tracks Khan’s recovery from LSD-induced madness, and ‘Pray For Lil’ is a thanks to his wife for putting up with him.
Strangely dormant since 2007's sweaty soul party What Is?!, psychedelic garage rock masters King Khan & the Shrines return with the more refined but equally fun and frantic Idle No More. Khan still performed in his more stripped-down duo, the King Khan & BBQ Show, a parade of hyper, vulgar, garage rock with like-minded guttersnipe Mark Sultan, but the horn sections, organ blares, and soul-drenched garage freakouts of the Shrines were on hold, as they built steam for this powerhouse of a record. Despite some undercurrents of political sentiment (the title references a Canadian environmental activism group), this is a rock record first and foremost, burying any messages in a maelstrom of driving psych-soul on par with the best moments of an imagined jam session where the Seeds back up Otis Redding with help from Nashville session players circa 1967 blasting out the horns.
From sticking his butt in Lindsay Lohan's face to playing a 50 Cent after party in Norway, King Khan has pulled off some impressive stunts in his time. The flamboyant psych-rocker has earned an iconic reputation for his outlandish antics and flashy (often minimal) on-stage attire. However, the excesses that come with years of touring eventually caught up with Khan, who in 2010 suffered a meltdown in Korea that saw the momentary collapse of his relationship with Mark Sultan (aka BBQ).
You have to hand it to Arish Ahmad "King" Khan. Years of personal tragedy, spiritual crises, mental illness and political strife (see Q&A, above) could have caused him to quit. Instead he used it all to sharpen his perspective and arm himself with a whole new arsenal of material to attack with funk and soothe with soul. Idle No More is a refined version of the Shrines, sure, but only insofar as you can call a nine-piece band with layers of wah-wah guitar, strings and horns refined.
Arish Khan may surround himself with an army of nine and call himself a king, but at heart, he's a court jester. For all the voodoo mystique and sex-machine swagger he wields onstage, his songs brim with anxiety and humility, whether he’s lusting after cute record-store clerks, professing his weakness for plus-size paramours, or measuring his commitment in food stamps. It’s the sort of charm offensive that comes naturally when-- as a brown man in the traditionally white world of garage-punk, not to mention in Khan’s adopted hometown of Berlin-- you’ve lived your life as an outsider among outsiders.
It doesn’t feel like six years have passed since King Khan’s last full-length, What Is?!. And in that time, not much has changed. At times, Khan’s Idle No More packs similar energy, funk and backyard debauchery vibes. It’s heavy on horns, soulful grooves and fuzzed-out guitar. It’s aural ….
King Khan bows to the gods of omnivorous musical appetites and breakneck speed. His mission has been explicit since the start: to aggressively scramble, blend, or smash together all forms of ‘60s music—jangly and psychedelic pop, garage rock, southern soul, early funk. Listening to King Khan albums is like being at a bar with a drunk, crazed baby-boomer in possession of an endless supply of bills for the jukebox.
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.
Shamanistic soul-and-party-loving punk King Khan has always had rhythm - of that there's no doubt - but now he has the serious blues. Away from his two man spectra-sonic King Khan & BBQ Show, it's back to the full touring circus with The Shrines, complete with full on horn section and a percussionist of distinction, Ron Streeter, a player from the pomp of Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. King Khan & The Shrines deal in 13th Floor Elevators psychedelia dirtied by the water spat out by The Standells and then infused with the infectious funk of The JB's.
It’s been six years since King Khan and the Shrine’s soul-psych extravaganza What Is?, where the Montrealean garage revivalist channeled an acid-tripping Sam and Dave or, perhaps, a Syd Barrett duck-walking in shiny pointed dress shoes. Khan has apparently spent the early teens honing a sleeker, denser, more Spector-esque sound, the raw scrape of, say, “Torture” moussed and primped into a wall-to-wall swirl of sensation. At its best, for instance in the unstoppable “I Got Made,” Khan balances a sharp, swaggering attack with the pillow-y lushness of a Morricone score.
Arish Ahmad Khan, better known by his stage name King Khan, is a dissenter to the straight and narrow path of radio-friendly music. In addition to his songs’ overtly liberal messages, Khan has accumulated himself a record of activities throughout his career that would more likely be associated with a juvenile delinquent or troublemaker instead of a musician, putting Kanye’s VMA stunt in the category of child’s play. The list includes King Khan’s attire (minimal), the recurring use of an onstage cheerleader/go-go dancer named Bamboorella and his raunchy antics which have included urinating on the public audience.
King Khan has been a celebrated cult figure in garage rock circles for almost two decades now, characterised by his wild appearance and larger than life persona. ‘Idle No More’ is the band’s first album in six years and self-proclaimed ‘masterpiece’. And while it’s named after an indigenous Canadian civil rights movement, it’s far from being hectoring polemic.
King Khan & the Shrines Idle No More (Merge) Five years have passed since the apt and boldly named The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines was unleashed on unsuspecting stateside ears. The compilation of breakneck R&B and gut-bucket garage rock – culled from previous European releases – came from the warped mind of Berlin's King Khan, a punk rock soul shaman born in Canada to Indian émigrés. Equal parts Wilson Pickett, Roky Erickson, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Khan's the consummate showman and that manic energy exists here, though only in spots.