Artist: Ten Kens
Title: For Posterity
Label: Fat Cat, UK
Details: CD / DL. 12 tracks, 51 minutes. Released 30/08/10
Well, here’s something rarer than a Scottish heatwave – a guitar-based rock quartet worth listening to. Unlike the Three Johns, there aren’t ten of them and none of them are called Ken. Their names are Dan, Brett, Sully and Ryan and they hail from Toronto.
What you don’t get here – bland singalong choruses, anaemic anthems, pompous bluster or songs that are sustained by a single idea. What you do get is a good deal of variety and tempo and mood switches within songs (but not in a look-how-clever-I-am math rock way). It’s impossible to work in this format and be entirely original, but you can take different influences and mash them up together in new ways. There are a lot of bands I hear in their style – The Breeders, 13th Floor Elevators, Drive Like Jehu, Aereogramme, Gallon Drunk, the Ruts to name but a few – but crucially none of their songs can be pinned down to any one overriding influence.
There are a dozen songs, none of which could be described as filler. I’m not going to go through them all, but as a flavour they range from the dark and brooding Back to Benign to the shouty hardcore with inappropriate quiet bits of Grassmaster; from the strange garage-psych atmospherics and punkish riffing of Summer Camp to the Deal Twins go spagh western punk-pop of the title track. Singer Dan Workman has an angelic high tenor that can morph into a throaty scream when called for which often contrasts beautifully with the carnage going on behind him.
If I were choose a single highlight it would be the seven minute epic Style Wars which combines reflective, slightly unnerving psychedelic pop with a martial drum machine and some choice riffing and seems to be haunted throughout by the benign ghost of Rowland S Howard doing what he did best. The final track Can’t Not Be Dark starts quietly before finishing up with some frenzied riffing, but we’ll forgive that cliché because a) it’s about the only cliché on the album, and b) it’s a lot of fun.
I don’t listen to much guitar music these days. If I do, aside from the National, it’ll be old faves – NoMeansNo, Fugazi, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Throwing Muses, the Replacements or the Clash or even older faves like the 60s San Francisco bands and the Nuggets generation. But I think Ten Kens have just found themselves a little place amongst that elite.
The label say I’m to use Screaming Viking if I’m going to stream a track. It’s not the best song, but gives as good a flavour as any.