Turntablists have pumped out a dizzying number of recordings that proclaim the return of the DJ with all the understated nuance of a John Bonham drum solo. In the wake of so much repetitive, wrist-wrecking crossfader action comes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the refreshingly playful and unpretentious debut from Eric “Kid Koala” San. Recorded directly from two turntables and a mixer without the aid of a sampler, the album is high on jazzy breaks and a jokey atmosphere in the vein of labelmates Coldcut and Funki Porcini. The 25-year-old Montreal native layers surreal dialogues culled from vocal snippets of dating advice, Pac-Man tips, and wistful celebrity interviews atop subtle needle-work and brassy beats.
At 38 minutes, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a small, good thing. The novelty may wear off on a few tracks, notably the cluck-and-mix oddball “Like Irregular Chickens,” but most reveal dense levels of sophistication with each repeated listening. Kid Koala shines on “Drunk Trumpet,” building lonesome solos from bleating trumpets and mimicking the finger-pickings of a flamenco guitarist with nimble scratch wizardry, and then channels a 1970s Stevie Wonder through Kraftwerk on “Roboshuffle.” His wit and skills are equally sharp for “A Night at the Nufonia,” in which a stand-up comedian’s mockery of hip-hop scratching provides the theme for rhythm-fracturing variations.
Early on, Kid Koala lets you in on a secret about himself and his fellow DJs (courtesy of a clip from “Revenge of Nerds”): “We’re nothing but the nerds they say we are.” Kid Koala’s real charm is not his virtuosity, per se, but his ability to express the simple joy of playing with records.
And if you’re looking for a change of format after digging through the crates, the CD is padded with a 36-page comic book drawn by Kid Koala himself and “Vinoids,” an update of the classic video game, “Asteroids.” That kind of surplus value should appease any vinyl junkie.