1990s leftfield rock updated for the 21st century.
Wyndham Wallace 2010-08-24
It’s not so long ago that bands like Ten Kens were classified by the media as “math rock”, their complex rhythmic interplay, angular song structures and insistence that music fans still have brains apparently consigning them to the nerd’s corner of the musical playground. But while this Toronto four-piece employ many of the same tricks that the likes of Slint and Chavez exploited in the early 90s, they’ve fortunately messed with the formulae, throwing in healthy doses of hardcore, post-punk and even goth. This ensures that, even though at times they’re in danger of sounding dated, they still remain excitingly challenging.
Opener Johnny Ventura is typical, crashing over jagged riffs and awkward time changes before breaking off into a quietly funereal midsection, then shuddering back into a climactic résumé. Back to Benign, meanwhile, kicks off like a lethargic Pixies but slowly builds tension towards a doom-laden climax of huge, chugging chords and distant howls. Insignificant Other, however, highlights one of the band’s weaknesses: singer Dan Workman’s vocals at times fall uncomfortably flat in the higher registers. They might call it honest, but at times it’s closer to painful and detracts from the potent fury behind him.
The album’s highlight is Screaming Viking, where the band come closest to offering something approaching a melody, one that positively frolics compared to the heavy-footed sound of much of the rest of the record. Still not exactly music for the milkman, of course, it’s boosted by a massive riff that sounds like ZZ Top playing Black Sabbath, and in comparison to the fraught Grassmaster it’s positively anthemic. Throw in the intense claustrophobia of Yellow Peril and the threatening closer Can’t Not Be Dark, and there’s every chance that Ten Kens could prove to be more than the sum of their mathcore influences.
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