Just because you can rock an instrument doesn’t mean you can sing. Which is why I should totally be pissed that Kaki King decided to put more effort into her vocals than the flex of her guitar muscles on the fifth installment in the out musician’s decade-long career, “Junior.” But I’m not.
The wistfully raw album that’s ostensibly about a break-up is just too damn good, an inescapable down-to-earth Bermuda Triangle of sound that can be heard live during the Atlanta native’s May 5 show at the Ark in Ann Arbor.
Her voice on the disc may be feeble and hungry, but that’s partly because all that’s enveloping it is so forceful that what she does sing risks being swallowed up by the atmospheric take-me-away pull of everything else.
She’s been heading in this indie-rocker direction gradually, launching her career on just her wicked guitar prowess back on her all-instrumental 2003 debut and then presumably getting bored – even though we weren’t – and throwing down some vocals on 2008’s “Dreaming of Revenge.”
If King’s trying to prove something, she’s doing it with lots of gusto on “Junior”: She sings on eight of the 11 songs, more than she ever has on disc. She’s downright dreamy on “The Hoopers of Hudspeth” and hypnotic on songs with more gumption, like “Falling Day” and the cascading dance-rock of “Spit It Back in My Mouth.” “Death Head” roars, and makes it no wonder that Rolling Stone called her a “Guitar God.” And Eddie Vedder nabbed her for his “Into the Wild” score. And super-producer Timbaland had her produce a not-yet-released Miley Cyrus song.
Without the voice, she’s something else: a genius capable of creating crescendos that suck you deep into their epicenter. No surprise, then, that the best tune on the album is one of the few that are vocal-less: “My Nerves that Committed Suicide,” a shapeshifter of a song resembling Sigur Ros’ emotional swell as it snowballs into a thunderous dissonance of drums. So moving that it speaks to you even without a voice.
8 p.m. May 5, The Ark
316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor