Wednesday, November 21, 2007

CD review: Kenna

Make Sure They See My Face | Star Trak/Interscope

      It’s the absence of irony that makes Kenna’s ’80s throwback CD, Make Sure They See My Face — his non-jinx sophomore effort — so damn cool. He’s not above the Brit new wave references he so copiously cites; he doesn’t wink or smirk, or hide his love away beneath art-school archaeological detachment. That’s not to say that Face is absent effect. It swims in it. But the 29-year-old Ethiopian-born, West Virginia–raised BFF of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (a.k.a. the Neptunes) gives himself over to his musical influences with sincere abandon, capturing something of what it was like for so many American kids first hearing (or seeing) the early ’80s British MTV/KROQ darlings as they stormed the shores of U.S. pop culture. It’s the giddy rush of possibility, as assorted cultural assumptions are trashed and genre boundaries traversed via technology and innate pop sensibilities. With the help of producer and co-songwriter Hugo (Pharrell also produced and co-wrote two tracks), Kenna has mapped the future through artfully massaged re-creations of the not-too-distant past.

      Flickers of Coldplay and Radiohead crop up on Face, and the Ramones get a nod too. But spiraling through the grooves of Make Sure They See My Face most powerfully are the stylistic fingerprints of the Cure, U2, the Pet Shop Boys, the Fixx and countless British ‘80s one-hit wonders who made their marks and then vanished. (If Kenna doesn’t quite have the full-on lung power of Bono, he nails the phrasing and passion.) Hugo and Pharrell provide foundations of syncopated drum beats that simultaneously unfold the DNA of their own fabled studio aesthetic, while being grin-inducing, ass-shakingly faithful homages to the drum-machine glories of days gone by. Highlight: The black-boy-white-boy rap Kenna does mid-way through “Loose Wires,” evoking Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant’s deadpan delivery on “West End Girls,” and in the process, underscoring the cross-genre pollination that fed so much ’80s fare.

Review is taken from here

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