I have to admit that the prospect of reviewing a new Kid Koala album filled me with trepidation. My last brush with the eucalyptic one had been 2000’s Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. That’s an odd album. Depending on my mood it’s either almost entirely unlistenable or strangely splendid. Owing to the multiple personality disorder of that album I was, understandably, a little concerned about signing up to listen to another of his albums repeatedly. I needn’t have worried; 12 bit Blues is a joy.
According to Ninja Tune, this album was made using an SP-1200 played live and multi-tracked… not sequenced! That in itself is an exciting prospect but it seems apt for a project that centres around a form of music that prides itself in being raw. Having multitracked all of the beds for these tracks, Kid Koala came back to add his turntable mastery as a layer of what would ordinarily be polish – but in this case is a layer of grit on the dusty roads of these blues tracks.
I’m not sure how well this album will be received by those of you who have not had any exposure to the blues before. I suspect you may well enjoy it. It’s like the album that Moby, Norman Cook and all of those other vampires wish they could make. Heavy, chopped blues riffs and crackly blues voices that almost seem as they are transmitting from the netherworld; this is clearly the blues but it’s the blues with a modern riff. It’s certainly far more accessible than sitting down and listening to Leadbelly.
My initial reaction to this album was that it sounded like a darker version of some of (four time consecutive World Team DMC Champions) C2C’s prize-winning routines. That’s no bad thing because, as well as being wonderful fun to watch, they were also equally fun to listen to (unlike a lot of DMC routines). In truth that initial assessment wasn’t too far wide off the mark. What I would say though is that the sonic idea that I heard C2C expounding is given much more room to breathe and grow here.
There are twelve tracks on this album and they are mainly named “1 bit Blues”, “2 bit Blues”, “3 bit Blues” etc. Of the twelve tracks, only three don’t follow the naming convention. Of those three the only difference is a bracketed addition “10,000 miles” to “1 bit Blues” and “Chicago to LA to NY” on “8 bit Blues”. The standout tracks for me are “5 bit Blues”, “2 bit Blues” and “9 bit Blues”. “5 bit Blues” is sumptuously moody and downbeat. It’s all haunting vocals, chopped horns and crunchy, hissing cymbals; it could easily have come from the Digable Planets. “2 bit Blues” is a jaunty little number, it puts me in mind of John Lee Hooker; it’s up-tempo and the kind of thing that makes you walk that little bit faster. “9 bit Blues” is a track stripped down to the marrow; it’s chopped guitar riff overlaid with an eerie harmonica which is being transformed Jazzy Jeff style.
If you listen to the album as a whole it becomes apparent that Kid Koala’s skill as a DJ has been employed in the overall construction and flow of the album. The peaks and troughs of intensity and tempo are placed to perfection and the overall effect is that you feel happy to start the album again every time it finishes. I’ve been listening to 12 bit Blues on the tube and it adds a wonderfully surreal edge to my journey. It’s fantastically constructed and readily able to transport the listener to its strange home world of cyberblues.