Two years later, one of the best things from the Bay returns as the versatile voice that is Kai Straw. With the successful album Toothpick (2016) under his belt — which not only took listeners through a realm of pains visually and sonically — now comes the formatted road of this success entitled GUN, via Tenth Gate Records.
“I wanted to make something that embodies aspiration; the ambition, the vulnerability, the arrogance, the isolation, the hope – the want for a partner that sees the road you see. Ambition can be such a desperate thing; I see a gun in my mind when I think of the word. I wanted to make an album about that. The rattling in your soul when you’re grinding toward what you want from life. Something that felt like – flicking the cylinder into place, pulling back the hammer and saying, ‘give me all you got.'”
Naturally joining forces with producer James the Bear, GUN dabbles into an aesthetically different playing field of indie-pop while maintaining this gritty underlying factor of soul and funk we are accustomed to from the artist. “The Recipe” and “Supernova” showcased this change of pace months ago and added an element of excitement for the lane of sound Kai started to drive into.
GUN opens with the loving, uptempo ode “They Sent You,” and trickles from where we last left off on Toothpick. Yet, this state of mind doesn’t last long as “Cherry Corvette” takes hold of the spotlight and eases a listener. James the Bear’s production on the track melts over Kai’s confident vocals like warm butter. While “Rolls” exposes the duality of holding his dreams in mind, a slight bitter-sweet, almost vulnerable tone emerges from Kai in the beginning, paving for the rest of the album.
Once “Back From The Crypt” comes on, the album’s feeling changes. Kai’s fast flow returns, highlighting previous sounds and fittingly upholding the track’s title. Bass and rhythm are prominent on this track, playing with short, halting breaks and getting an extra amount of texture from ZayVsThem.
At this point the rest of the album carries the most depth and its strongest moments. “Jesse James” revisits this image of holding a gun, and who in fact is holding the weapon in sight, channeling the ambitious and carefree mindset of the infamous outlaw. Once again displaying this multi-dimensional struggle of pushing towards the goal in sight, Kai’s thick skin is removed, exposing an honest, and human-esque quality on “Baby, Pick Up Your Gun.” Echoing an older style, the track’s explosive bites of raw emotion is a reflective push for Kai — or a suggestion for his partner in mind — as he tries to make sense of his aspirations. Closing these ideals, “Homes” is an optimistic, and funk-tronic collection of sounds that simply puts all these struggles to bed.
GUN is a staple within Kai’s musical growth as he continues to climb. Not only does Kai manage to implement his own tone within James the Bear’s fresh production (that gets us time after time), but relates to listeners on different levels through these various structures. We see Kai carefully color in the outlines he drew for us on Toothpick– mentally, sonically, and effortlessly — and always look forward to the next step.