Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kenna - New Sacred Cow (2003)

Between the slick production and groovy beats laid down by Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, and Kenna's soulful, smooth crooning, this genre-blurring debut was and is a winner.  Taken as a whole album, Kenna's voice can get a little repetitive at times, but there are enough great cuts on the disc to keep you interested.
Rating: 4/5

I'll admit - I didn't know what to make of Kenna at first, and most won't.  New Sacred Cow leans heavily on an undefinable sensibility - an odd, eclectic mix of hip-hop beats and production, electronica-inspired yet uniquely quirky synths and samples, and Kenna's performances - running the gamut from honest statements of truth to haunting moments of desperation to classic rockstar swagger.  It's probably the epitome of what you could call "alternative".

And it's a great album.  Songs like Freetime and Sunday After You get the energy flowing with quick, shuffly beats, while tracks like Hell Bent and Yeneh Ababa (Rose) reach for more quiet, desperate moments.  The songs are incredibly formulaic, but the production is where the interesting things are in these compositions.  Layers and layers of vocal overdubs fill out the space left by the relatively sparse frameworks that the instrumentation carve out.

Lyrically, Kenna manages through a balance of cryptic suggestions and flat out explanations to come off as clever most of the time while exploring the album's themes of control and who has it, though some lines in certain songs (Vexed and Glorious comes to mind) come off as a bit lame.  Kenna's voice is smooth and powerful for it's high-octave leanings, and a firm grasp of dynamics and subtlety don't hurt matters one bit.

The main problem with this album, if any, is that there's not a lot of experimentation or risk taking going on with the vocals themselves - taken as a whole album, there's a good chance you'll get tired of the man's voice somewhere past halfway through, about when War in Me (a song that takes entirely too long to turn cool) starts to play.  However, the rest of the album thereafter is interesting enough to ride out to a strong finish, especially with the title track and the bouncy, enjoyable Siren.

Pros: diverse, well-written, pleasing to the ear
Cons: starts to wear thin a bit in the middle before coming back to good

Standout Tracks - Hell Bent, New Sacred Cow


  1. I also admit not knowing what to think on first hearing them. For once I can't say "they sound like XYZ."
    At first I didn't like the drum tracks in Hell Bent. I found them out of place and disturbing to my sense of rhythm, but now it kind of gels.

    You already used three adjectives I was gonna: quirky and odd AND pleasant.

    Going to have to listen again.

  2. Glad you liked it. This album is definitely one of my all time favorites, I first heard it shortly after it released, but hadn't heard it in about a year prior to this review.

    I nearly gave it a perfect score, but I talked myself into stepping back and looking at it through a more objective lens, away from my own personal love for and attachment to many of these tracks.

  3. very good post man.....good work

  4. I immediately liked the drums in Hell Bent. I try to act different from Rorschach. But really, I did enjoy them.

    I liked New Sacred Cow, but not as much as Hell Bent. Surprised they are both on the same album.

    Either way, I'm definitely going to get this album. You almost gave it a perfect score but had to step back and be more objective, that makes me even more curious about it. I could never get around to finding all the music out there I really enjoy so I always appreciate it when someone like you shares a gem like this. Thank you, sir.

  5. dude thank you so much...
    on new years eve in 1999 Toonami was running a New Year's Evil special. Many animated musical performances were aired, including the Gorillaz, the Daft Punk Interstella 5555 movie, and one music video with a grey alien looking guy who made happy goggles by taking some of his inner light and sharing it with everyone, and it made the world a better place. I could not remember the name associated with that video but your post totally gave me a flashback and i thank you heavily for it!

  6. i was talking about Kenna btw, my bad

  7. Oh yeah, the video you're talking about is the original video for Hell Bent which made Kenna something of an underground success. It was released long before the album though, as the album got tied up in development hell.

    A deeper look at why it happened and the effect it had on Kenna's career at the time can be found in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink -- there's a chapter dedicated to Kenna and his treatment at the hands of the record label.

  8. Awesome dude, I like it.

    (and Hit-Girl is 13)

  9. Very good listen, I'm groovesharking the heck out of Kenna.