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Artists outside of traditional rock.

by Dan Grote

Let me just start by saying IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME THIS ALBUM CAME OUT. Ethiopian-cum-Virginia-based artist Kenna started building buzz for himself when his first video, a claymation piece called “hell bent,” bowed in late summer 2001. To his debit, at the time he was being touted as another prodigy of Fred Durst, which is odd considering his music sounds absolutely nothing like Staind, Cold, or Puddle of Mudd. Two years later, Kenna has finally dropped his debut New Sacred Cow, produced by the far-better-to-be-affiliated-with Chad Hugo of Neptunes fame.

And while this is a Neptunes-related joint, don’t expect any guest appearances by cool kat Pharrell Williams or Jay-Z guest raps in the bridge. In fact, don’t expect anything close to rap or R&B, as Kenna’s album is probably thirteen of the best electro-pop tunes the ‘80s could never come up with. It’s moody, dark without being navel-gazing, and most importantly, it’s catchy as hell.

Take for example, “freetime,” the second single, currently generating rotation on MTV2. If nothing else, it’s a club track for rock kids, with the video, shot from the knees down, detailing a punk kid’s misadventures at a rock show as he escapes his girlfriend. Then there’s “vexed and glorious,” a song whose dreamy swirling keyboard loops come off like Erasure for heterosexuals, while “i’m gone,” a track that opens with a hyena’s laughter, only sounds upbeat but narrates the story of a man “nervous and wasted” and confronting the idea that “everything ends.” Then there’s the album’s loudest song, “red man,” wherein the keyboards sound off like guitars as Kenna sings “Red man’s got you crazy sad,” to which I reply, “What did hip-hop’s clown prince ever do to you?” (bad joke).

And while all of these songs will give your car speakers a run for their money (there’s a good amount of bass on all of them), none of them match the pounding melancholy of “hell bent,” a ballad with a musically emotional bridge of crescendo-ing keyboards and bass than snaps right back to the sadness of the original verses. Meanwhile, “war in me” finds Kenna going orchestral, playing a straight piano and adding strings.

VERDICT: Kenna isn’t exactly at the vanguard of a new electropop trend; if anything, Junior Senior will probably beat him to the punch with that damn “Move Your Feet” song, but there’s a slightly more soulful and musically inventive method to Kenna’s magic that the Danish duo aren’t going for. Kenna’s music runs more like Pink Floyd for the dancehall, while his range allows him to write upbeat songs, downbeat songs, and songs that just plain rock even without natural guitars.

CD Info 

Kenna - New Sacred Cow
Label: Columbia Records
Within Earshot / Freetime
Man Fading
Sunday After You
Vexed And Glorious
Better Control, A
Red Man
Hell Bent
Yeneh Ababa (Rose)
War In Me
New Sacred Cow
I'm Gone
Love/Hate Sensation
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