Kid Koala Is All Fun and Games on 'Creatures of the Late Afternoon'

BY Alan RantaPublished Apr 11, 2023

Montreal-based turntablist Eric San, best known as Kid Koala, has been one of the most wonderfully inventive and wholesomely cathartic artists of the last thirty years. He's remixed and collaborated with all kinds, touring with everyone from Radiohead and Arcade Fire to the Beastie Boys and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He also famously performed in Deltron 3030 with Dan the Automator and Del the Funky Homosapien, a dream team that altogether graced the first (and best) album ever made by Damon Albarn's Gorillaz. The kid really lets his family-friendly freak flag fly on his solo works, though, and Creatures of the Late Afternoon cranks up the eccentricity knob to eleven.
Almost everything San puts out under his cuddly nom de plume of Kid Koala has some kind of uniquely associated multi-media bonus that he's constantly trying to outdo — his first album, 2000's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, was humorously noted in the inlay as being a free CD included with the modest comic booklet that constituted its liner notes, written and illustrated by San himself. His 2012 album, 12 Bit Blues came with a cardboard, hand-powered turntable, and in 2018, he produced the driving score for an award-winning breakdancing indie game called Floor Kids. If it's fun, Kid Koala gets it done.
San had his sights set higher for his eighth album and first on Envision Records. For Creatures of the Late Afternoon, he created his own admirably complex board game, with musical cues linked up for play on the double-LP vinyl (each side of the wax's four sides contain "staring competition" tracks with locked run-out grooves for indefinite gazes), instructions on the art sleeves, and the game board printed on the record's inner gatefold.
The game puts two to four players in the role of Svengali producers attempting to arrange combinations of creatures and instruments that will record a distinctive song. Some possible outcomes of the game are seemingly sprinkled throughout the album's track listing. "1000 Times" could be a breakup song by a jellyfish drummer, spoon bill bassist, and coelacanth singer with a broken saxophone solo recorded through a pallophotophone, while "When U Say Love" could be a sentimental ballad sung by a crayfish with a sloth and stick bug rhythm section and a vibraphone solo recorded through a reel-to-reel. What is certain is that San put an incredible amount of effort into this project, with different designs on most of the 150 cards going into the board game, and approximately 200,000 scratches going into the music.
The album opens (and the game begins) with "Here Now." This is Kid Koala in top form. The heavy guitars and thunderous drums kick as hard as anything from 2006's Your Mom's Favorite DJ. "Dusk" has killer snap too, pairing a boom-bap b-boy breakbeat with upright bass and jazz flourishes like something from an advanced level of Floor Kids.
Granted, there are a few times where the album loses momentum. "Jump & Shuffle" was apparently recorded live in a hardware store, and it sounds like it. The balance seems off, with fuzzy bass and muffled melodies that make it seem like you're listening to it from the bathroom rather than the dance floor. 

Hammerhead's rocking action sequence "Get Level" lacks the definition to give it drive as well, with fuzzy, scattered vocals and a beat washed away by static shuffles. Midtempo jam "The Frequencies" plods along rather unremarkably, while "Let's Go" has a menu screen vibe, funky but stagnant.

There are a lot of interludes on the album that don't tend to add much either, particularly on repeat listens. "Pa$Swerdd" is a bit of a meandering pile of sounds for a minute, and there are a couple of overly long skits set in a robot hotel that feature two of the default Siri voices monotonously acting out the roles of guest and desk clerk as they banter about amenities and local events.

However, the interesting far outweighs the forgettable. San branches out into extraordinary areas on tracks like "Things Are Gonna Change" with Lealani, which has that skipping cheerleader pep from the Go! Team's early work. Crayfish's "When U Say Love" drops the sound palette into more of that mid-century girl group and blue-eyed soul style a lá the Chordettes or Lesley Gore, while Manta Ray brings a gothic alt-rock aura on "The Cards," stabbing along hauntingly somewhere between Goblin and Bauhaus. Later, the mournful guitars, somber pacing and disembodied, scratched crooning on "Til We Meet Again" lend it the sway of a shadowy doo-wop ballad.

Balancing the spiritual survey of vintage pop, a couple of the biggest bangers have a distinctly futuristic atmosphere. "Decades" sounds like montage music for a space western with its chugging, organically industrial beat and wide-lens atmosphere bringing to mind the indie-electronic classic "Timber" by Coldcut and Hexstatic. Given shape by the progression of a launch countdown, the space samples and rising tension of "Rise of the Tardigrades" sounds like the prequel to "Guns Blazing (Drums Of Death, Pt. 1)" from UNKLE's Psyence Fiction.

For all of his inherent badassery, Eric San remains the turntablist you can take home to mother. In fact, his mother has often been seen at his joyous live shows, which have taken the form of an immersive puppet cabaret called "Vinyl Vaudeville," while the ambient tour for Space Cadet saw the crowd sit in pods and listen on headphones. The liner notes say the live extravaganza for Creatures of the Late Afternoon will be a "creatures board game and ice cream event," so consider us screaming. It can be difficult to appreciate everything San does until you see him do it live, and even then, it can be too overwhelming to comprehend. All things considered, this may not be the best album ever made by Kid Koala, but it might be one of his most rewarding experiences. Game on!

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