k-os: BLack on BLonde

[1 May 2013]

By Joshua Kloke

Any time an artist employs a list of supporting characters for an album as diverse as aging new waver Corey Hart, the Roots lead MC Black Thought and quintessential everyman rocker Sam Roberts, it’s safe to assume that the album in question is going to be an ambitious one.  And BLack on BLonde is just that: ambitious in scope. It’s something of a rite of passage for multi-dimensional artists such as Canadian hip hop (though that’s a limiting term itself) MC k-os, once they hit a certain age or stage in their career to become reflective on their body of work. Has this work succeeded in fulfilling the artist’s original vision, back in the naïve salad days? k-os, now in his 40s, has previously released four very likeable records. Though each of those releases always offered hints at something more: a desire to operate free of the constraints of genres, and to truly follow a wide-ranging vision.

On BLack on BLonde, k-os doesn’t attempt to craft tracks which fuse his influences, both indie rock and modern hip hop. Instead, k-os draws a thick line in the sand, showcasing the two very distinct sides of his persona: the groove-laden “Black” first disc and the hook-heavy “Blonde” second disc, which features k-os and his constantly improving handling of both guitar and drums. On past releases and singles, including the insanely catchy “Crabbuckit”, which still garners play on modern rock radio in Toronto, k-os seemed intent of fusing rock and hip-hop, with the middle ground producing passable results.

BLack on BLonde is different. It’s an experiment in distinct parameters. k-os throws the middle ground out the window, instead exposing the two poles of his psyche. Sure, it’s thick with the classic encouraging, uplifting and loveable lyrics k-os has become known for. And there’s enough hypnotic grooves one can get lost in, most notably on the smoky late-night vibe of “Play This Game” and the loopy, heartache-driven “Nobody Else”. In that regard, BLack on BLonde is indeed one of k-os’s finest releases. Yet like so many ambitious, mid-career releases, BLack on BLonde can be quite challenging at times. k-os is, by distinctly separating the two sounds which has driven his records as of late, forcing listeners to choose which element of his trademark sound they identify with most.

He’s deconstructed his own persona, which requires a level of bravery that one can only attain with age. And that’s heard in spades on the slightly aggressive “Try Again” or the overtly emotional “Alone In My Car”. K-os means well, and the vulnerability he displays on BLack on BLonde will certainly force him to make more meaningful choices on his upcoming records. It becomes very clear by the chaotic album closer “Blondes” that BLack on BLonde was as much an effort for k-os to attain some clarity as to the future of his career as it was an effort to let his fans in on his current artistic influences. In that regard, what happens next for k-os may turn out to be the true defining moment in his career.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/170253-k-osblack-on-blonde/