Arish Ahmad Khan, better known by his stage name King Khan, is a dissenter to the straight and narrow path of radio-friendly music. In addition to his songs’ overtly liberal messages, Khan has accumulated himself a record of activities throughout his career that would more likely be associated with a juvenile delinquent or troublemaker instead of a musician, putting Kanye’s VMA stunt in the category of child’s play. The list includes King Khan’s attire (minimal), the recurring use of an onstage cheerleader/go-go dancer named Bamboorella and his raunchy antics which have included urinating on the public audience.
And his latest album, with The Shrines, is not something of childish material. The album title Idle No More comes from the Canadian movement of the same name that focuses on the rights of the indigenous people of Canada with whom Khan lived during his younger years. Just as the protesters use the Idle No More to educate people on the indigenous right movement, Khan And The Shrines use Idle No More as their vehicle for awakening the listeners to their view of the world. Musically, the album avoids any sort of sophistry or confusion and is seen by Khan as “the most refined piece of music [the band] has made to date.” The albums lyrics pair harmoniously with funky, orchestral melodies, thereby furthering the message’s ability to be clear and easily understood by the listeners.
By giving a full-scale meditation on the state of world King Khan And The Shrines explore the good and the bad. Opening track “Born To Die” implements doo-wop guitar riffs alongside discordant strings and ominous vocals to express the characteristics of the war-hungry chaos ravaging our modern day society. The lyrics convey imagery of us being “Taught by angels calls/ Mystics soak and tone their dirty paws/ Where can we go/ The only hope that’s left is in our home.” In Khan’s eyes, everything we learn and are told about our world from authoritative forces is bullshit: we’ve created this chaos. Khan just hopes we can pull our heads out of the sand to see it. He mentions activists and revolutionary groups who have attempted to do so in “Bite My Tongue” but ironically are finding themselves imprisoned, impoverished or dead. Khan portrays this hypocritical sense of justice beautifully by implementing upbeat horn-driven melodies with pop-influenced melodies, all while spilling the dark societal truth in his vocals.
“Pray For Lil” provides realization of positive facets in life. The latter serves as an ode to his wife, and while to some it seems cheesy, the track demonstrates the beneficial power love possesses for its recipients. Similarly, Khan reflects upon his family in “Luckiest Man.” Through his gospel-influenced wails and shouts and fast-driven bass lines, Khan describes his support from his family in the lines “I get my love every morning, noon, and night.” It seems that he abides by an almost-universal statement that with a healthy dose of genuine love in your life, regardless of what you do or accomplish, you truly are a lucky person in this world.
Closing the album with “Of Madness I Dream,” the song provides itself as a final stand at beginning the erasure of “the madness” we’ve created. The song begins with the cacophonous dissonance of disorganized horns and drums, dissipating shortly after their conception. Khan sighs the dejected and tired vocals alongside simple wispy guitar picking and bittersweet violin melodies. In the end, Khan moans an unfortunate, matter of fact truth we all know and attempt to push away, that “the world as you know/is running on empty it seems.”
Maybe Khan is excessive in the thought process of his message regarding the world; maybe he is in fact understating the necessity of awareness to the problems our world faces; maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. Regardless, all of us could use a little bit of the soul the King Khan And The Shrines is willing to share on the record.