CD Review of Make Sure They See My Face by Kenna
Recommended if you like
Gnarls Barkley, Basement Jaxx, Depeche Mode
Label
Interscope
Kenna:
Make Sure They See My Face

Reviewed by David Medsker

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I
t’s telling that in today’s hyper-fragmented music market, where every sound has a scene (snocore, math rock, darkwave, etc.), no one has figured out what the hell to make of Kenna. Pop doesn’t want him because his songs actually have some depth to them. R&B doesn’t want him because his synth-happy records sound too “white.” Modern rock won’t touch him because, well, I actually have no idea why modern rock won’t touch him, but I suspect it’s because he’s black. Seriously, have you noticed how incredibly white modern rock radio is? I’m still trying to figure out how Gnarls Barkley got through the door.

After the label-hopping nightmare Kenna encountered with his 2003 debut, New Sacred Cow – it sat in DreamWorks’ vault for years before Sony finally sprung it from purgatory – it’s surprising to see him give the major labels another shot. Maybe Interscope read the chapter Malcolm Gladwell dedicated to the mishandling of New Sacred Cow in his book “Blink” and assured Kenna, “Dude, we’d totally not do that to you.” The bottom line is that Interscope now has the task of selling Kenna to the masses. This is a difficult task to begin with, due to the man’s truly unique style, but his new album, Make Sure They See My Face, saddles them with an additional problem. Simply put, the album’s recorded waaaaaaay too hot, much like Sam’s Town, the 2006 album from Kenna’s new label mates the Killers.

Unlike New Sacred Cow, which was about as instantly accessible a pop record as you’re likely to hear, Make Sure They See My Face takes a couple spins to peel back the layers, at which point the album reveals its charms. The chugging “Daylight” is bolstered with jet-screamer keyboard lines, while the stomping chorus to “Out of Control (State of Emotion)” will crush anything in its path. “Say Goodbye to Love” is as fun as the album gets – Kenna’s music may be cool, but it can also get heavy – and Justin Timberlake makes an appearance on “Phantom Always,” though after repeated plays of the track, I have yet to find him.

The entire production (by Kenna’s buddies the Neptunes, no less), unfortunately, is undone by two things: a collection of songs that, while good, is not quite as solid as his last batch, and one sorry mix job. Turn the album up even semi-loud, and it sounds distorted, which severely hampers both the album’s rump-shaking moments (“Out of Control,” “Say Goodbye to Love”) and the brooding, darker material as well (“Baptized in Blacklight,” “Phantom Always”). Lastly, I would like to submit a bill that would permanently ban skits from all recorded music henceforth, in particular skits that involve voices at varying speeds.

It’s encouraging that there was a major label out there that believes enough in Kenna to give him the push that he rightly deserves; what a shame, then, that Kenna gave them a record that is going to be more difficult to push than his first one. Less accessible and sonically faulty, those are not the keys to mainstream success (Nirvana may have bitched about Andy Wallace’s pristine mix job, but they wouldn’t have sold a tenth as many copies of Nevermind without it). Kenna will undoubtedly have his day, but Make Sure They See My Face, for all its good points, it not likely bring many new people to the party.

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