Review Summary: One of the most tragically underrated bands of the decade. This debut gets every single thing right.
Canada has the best bands, I swear, I wish I lived in Canada... And, adding to the many incredible bands that call this land home is Ten Kens. They are extremely unknown, sadly. They deserve so much more recognition than they get due to their unique take on Indie Rock.
This is not your typical Indie music, this is not The Shins, this is not Band Of Horses. This is Ten Kens. This is Indie, the type where there's really no category that it can go into. This band is somewhat eccentric to say the least. Their songs and styles range from head nodding anthems to slow, blurry, acoustic ballads. This debut album spans genres really. However, it does not lose focus, it remains very consistent, very concise, and extremely fantastic.
The debut begins with a fast paced, but rather atypical quasi-instrumental known as "Bear Fight." Though an obvious intro track, it remains one of the highlights of the album. It does not stick to the all-too-common quiet-loud-quiet formula of post-rock. It starts loud with a few drum hits and loud guitar chords, slowly breaks down into a little rest, and back up into a climax, back down, back up, back down, back up again, and then back down to silence. Then, the oh's and ah's of the lead singer come in and compliment the steady, marching drum beats and guitar pickings in the background. Following this, watery sounding, but clear-cut, vocals come in, giving the song a more obvious sense of direction. However, they soon break down into more staccato-esque vocals, quick and piercing. As quickly as the vocals appeared, they fade away. Then, a closing guitar strum ends this intro track. "Bear Fight" really is like a thesis statement for a paper. It immediately gives the listener a sense of what to expect on this fantastic album.
The songs that trail the thesis statement that is "Bear Fight" sort of follow the path, stylistically, of the structure that “Bear Fight” introduced: Loud, to sort of quiet, to really laid-back, to really loud, back to quiet, to quick, then to a slow but steady closer. The first song really outlines the entire album in a strange way. Each song consists of fantastically executed vocals, precise guitars, and pulsating drum beats. What makes this album so unique, however, is the feeling it emits. It feels as if this album is a dirty old house, with the doors knocked off of their hinges, and cold winter breezes are blowing through the broken windows. In all honesty, that's the vibe that this album gives me. It's one heck of a feeling too. Purely grade A. The vocals are often somewhat muted, blurred, and somewhat indiscernible. Also, the guitars have sort of a 'Golden Oldies' sound to them. Sometimes the instruments have a heavy reverb on them, sometimes not, and sometimes the guitars even sound like pedal steels. The bass remains constant in the background of most songs. Yet, sometimes, it's completely impossible to discern which instrument is doing what. There are phenomenal screams that occasionally bear their faces on this album as well, and when they do, it's spine chilling. They're not growls, they're high pitched howls.
One of the other standouts of this debut album by Ten Kens is the vocalists. There are, in fact, two vocalists. However, they have rather similar sounding voices, so it can be difficult to tell who's singing what. In a way, it sounds as if the lead vocalist is singing two different parts at once. One of the singers is predominantly the background vocalist that handles the occasional scream, while the other vocalist remains at the forefront within every song. The vocals never, ever, consist of a deep tone on this album. They are always crisp, they are always somewhat high, they are always haunting. However, they are not high as in Circa Survive high, they are simply a tad bit higher than the normal male vocalist. This unique tone to each of the vocalists' voices really adds something special to this album, it certainly does not take away.
I really cannot find a single thing wrong with this purely awesome work. This is creativity and ingenuity at its finest. Ten Kens have crafted something that shows a young and unknown band at the top of its career, and this is only the debut. This is incredible, and it's something you should check out without a single inkling of hesitation. If you miss this, you're missing out on one of the finest albums that has been produced in years.
Most notable tracks:
Every single one.