Album Review: Kid Koala "12 Bit Blues" (Ninja Tune 2012)

December 13, 2012 5 min read



 Kid Koala is a true master of his craft. Additionally, his special attention to the finer details and his all-encompassing creativity, greatly assist in enhancing and maximizing the listening experience of his albums. I’ve been a fan of his work and style from the first moment I heard one of his mixtapes about 15 years ago. It was instantly obvious that he was extremely disciplined and passionate about his work. I admit I haven’t been as in tune with his recent activities*. Not just him, I feel as if I’ve lost touch with what is happening in the turntablism community. There’s no particular reason, just bad fan etiquette on my behalf I suppose, letting the distractions of life keep me from the very things that provide the best stimuli for it. “12 Bit Blues” could be the proper dosage of “act right and get it together” that I needed so desperately.

Back in August I got an email from radio promoter extraordinaire, Jessica Weber, that mentioned a new Kid Koala project and it immediately peaked my interest. I hadn’t even listened to the included tracks from the single before I was confident I was going to love this upon reading the description. It was quite enticing imagining a Blues music based album primarily composed with a SP-1200and Turntables. Indeed, that sounded like a sure fire winner.

Upon receiving the album I was delighted to hear it was just as enjoyable as my imagination painted, better even. There’s this distinctive grittiness to the SP-1200that is somewhat synonymous with how, how I perceive, the Blues is supposed to sound. Personally, I don’t think the Blues should be enjoyed in stadium seating and with digital mixing board sound clarity. No, I’d prefer it in a small no name bar, on a dark street, and projected into the intimate audience with outdated lo-fi equipment. If that is a sentiment you agree with or even appreciate, then rest assured that Kid Koala captured that experience and brought it to life via his tools of choice.

Each track is very well composed. There is great movement and interesting rhythms. The scratching is skillful, as well as musically conscious and purposeful. You don’t have to like Hip Hop or Scratching to enjoy this album. Perhaps the untrained ear wouldn’t even recognize much of what he is doing as scratching…to them it may just be some wild instrument or effect…which, of course, is ultimately true. Kid Koala is among the breed of DJs who continually help solidify the turntable as a true sound instrument, “12 Bit Blues” is another successful experiment in doing such.

Not only are you audio senses in for a treat, the album also comes with some visual goodies as well. There is a 24-page booklet that has illustrations of the various pieces of equipment in his studio, complete with short back-stories on their function and in some cases, specifically when and where he has used them in his music, including on this album. There is also a nice panoramic shoot of is home studio. It’s honestly like an analog dream haven. The various items are numbered in the photo and there is corresponding numbers and descriptions on the side panels so that you can distinguish each piece of equipment. As an added bonus, there are two versions of the album. One comes with a workable paper turntable! I know, I had to read that a few times before I decided not to believe it. I’m not going to try to explain it, look it up and see for yourself. It’s definitely cool and creative, an extension of the man himself. In the other version, the liner notes also have paper domino set that you can cut out for your travel enjoyment. Ah, the fun is boundless…

The song titles are all named “Bit Blues” and only differentiated by their track number. Over the span of the twelve tracks a diverse range of moods are conveyed. “1 Bit Blues” has what I recognize as the most classic Blues sound and feel, making it perfect for the introduction. “2 Bit Blues” is the best upbeat dance number, accompanied by a turntable added horn section that drives the rhythm. “8 Bit Blues” is the track with the most raw Hip Hop feel and this is amplified with his scratch solo breakdowns of “3-1-2”, “2-1-2”, & “2-1-3”. This is one of the few tracks with a subtitle, this one is “Chicago To LA To NY”. Those not paying attention might miss his symbolizing of the cities by manipulating the vocal to shout out each city’s area code. Many of the really slow and moody tracks contain the most intricate, though often still subtle, cutting and scratching. He never sacrifices the big picture to show off how wild he can get with the pushing of a record and crossfader, but no one with ears can finish this record and not recognize his masterfully turntable skill. I find that to be a most honorable accomplishment.

Many DJs can rock a party, scratch like a madman, or construct a jaw dropping battle routine, but I still find it somewhat rare for DJs to deliver well-rounded actual albums. I’m not speaking about mixtapes or production records with some cutting, we get plenty of that and often done well. I’m referring to actual album composed with the turntable as the leading voice, in the company and compliment of some well-composed music. This is an art that Kid Koala is quite proficient in. He has also proven himself to be quite the nerd, if you will, so I find it no accident that this album is named “12 Bit Blues”. The term 12 Bit relates specifically to the 12-bit resolution of the SP-1200. However, Blues is built strongly on the use of the number 12. Per Wikipedia, “The basic 12-bar lyric framework of a blues composition is reflected by a standard harmonic progression of 12 bars in a 4/4 time signature.” That same search also yielded that the first published Blues song was in 1912. Coincidence? Methinks not.

Written By Kevin Beacham a.k.a DJ Nikoless

-Editor's Notes:

*Including not hearing his last couple albums. I brought “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” in 2000 and was vastly intrigued by it. After hearing “12 Bit Blues” I just placed an order for some of his albums I mentioned…time to complete the collection.

Bonus Note: Just remembered that Kid Koala was the DJ for the Deltron 3030 album, which is a project where many people might have heard his skills.

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