May 9, 2011

My Gut Reaction / Something Different: Kenna - Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and The Darkness (April 26, 2011)

The unclassifiable Kenna (real name Kenna Zemedkun) just cannot catch a break when it comes to the music industry. First, his debut album, New Sacred Cow, which featured wall-to-wall production from “Chase” Chad Hugo (the quieter, less visible half of production team The Neptunes), which tracked well with critics and focus groups, sold a negative amount of copies. Then his eventual follow-up, Make Sure They See My Face, did about the same, even though it included more bones thrown to the mainstream audience (its lead single, “Say Goodbye To Love”, was featured on MTV's The Hills; Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake both provided assists). And then the subject of today's post, the three-song EP Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and The Darkness (the first in a trilogy), which was originally marked for release in February, was pushed back to April after Kenna's hard drive became corrupted and he lost the entire fucking thing.

That last problem is really more of a hardware issue than anything, else, and the man rebounded quickly enough, re-recording the EP and finally unleashing it a few weeks ago. But the issues with his two full-length releases can be chalked up to his record label (Columbia Records for New Sacred Cow, Interscope for his sophomore release, and now Godel for this project) not really knowing how to market him to the masses, since Kenna refuses to stick with a specific musical genre, jumping from New Wave to rock to emo to club-bangers, among others, all within the time it took you to finish this sentence. I believe that anybody who refuses to listen to any genre of music that isn't in their wheelhouse merely because it isn't in their wheelhouse is a fucking moron: there's an entire world of good shit out there, so why should you limit yourself to anything specific? Unfortunately, it would seem that the universe consists primarily of fucking morons, and some of them actually work in the music industry, and those folks are physically unable to wrap their heads around any sort of composition unless they know going into it exactly where within their local record store it will be sitting. Sigh.

Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and The Darkness will be followed up by two additional volumes, each consisting of another three tracks, later on in 2011. The few articles I've read about this project online all seem to quote the same press release from Kenna's team, discussing the inspiration for the album title and how this entry in the series is the “dark” one. I won't get into any of that shit right now, because I don't feel like wasting virtual ink repeating what someone else has written, but I will say that the album's title is among the most ridiculous I've heard this year. However, I'm willing to let that slide if the music is good, because that is all that matters to me.

Let's take a look at how this year's model stacks up to the Kennas of the past.

The lead single (can an EP consisting of only three tracks have a “lead” single?) from Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and The Darkness is a potent, club-ready idealization of what would happen if the respective spawn of The Neptunes and Crystal Castles decided to hook up. Kenna bounces around the beat while singing about chains that can't be broken, but can “sli-i-i-ide” off (as the song purports to be about breaking free, even just temporarily, from the everyday doldrums of life, or at least that's what the video may lead you to believe), before he jumps into a simple hook that consists mainly of the phrase “bang, bang, bang”, which sounds a bit too peppy when you realize that the lyrics were co-written by Paul Banks, the lead singer from Interpol. Shimmy Hoffa is, apparently, the lame-ass alter-ego of producer Chad Hugo: I never ever thought I would write that “Skateboard P” is a brilliant nickname in contrast, but I'm left with no other choice. Kenna and company manage to conjure up a brick of pure uncut happiness straight from Bolivia. This song is the fucking shit. That is all.

As if “Chains” wasn't enough of a hint, “Kharma Is Coming” drives the point home that Kenna refuses to reside in a single musical genre, dropping the 1980s New Wave flair he once reveled in in favor of a guitar-driven instrumental laced with some medium-hard drums. He adapts to the task at hand fairly quickly, singing about what every single other artist in existence would sing about when the word “Karma” (or a bastardized spelling of it, anyway) appears in their song's title, although he does manage to make it sound like a serial killer from a slasher flick, even though there isn't anything remotely terrifying about this track...until the distorted vocals toward the end wake you up more than a tiny bottle of 5 Hour Energy ever could. This wasn't bad.

Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and The Darkness ends with a track as disconnected from “Kharma Is Coming” as that song was to “Chains”, but in no way am I implying that is a bad thing. Kenna uses his three verses to describe an anonymous woman looking to have a good time, following her from the time she spends getting ready to go out to the bright, blinding sunlight ever-present during the walk of shame back home. The unexpected piano keys help move the melody along, and the mild, moody electronic drum beat keeps our host in check. The hook is simple, almost too much so, but it still clicks for me, even though I am in no way an anonymous woman looking to have a goot time. I'm sorry to disappoint you. But there are other websites you could visit, if that's what you were really after. (There's also a version of this song floating around online featuring Lupe Fiasco performing all of the verses (using the exact same lyrics) with Kenna restricted to chorus duty only, all taking place over a different beat. I understand that it was originally intended for inclusion on Lupe's Lasers, but was dropped for whatever reason. For the record, I have no idea which version was the original, but having listened to both tracks, I prefer Kenna's attempt personally, but I'm sure a Lupe fan will dispute this in the comments.)

THE LAST WORD: I read a review in which the author highly praised “Chains” but distanced himself from the rest of Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and The Darkness, feeling that the other two tracks were representative of the poppy crossover attempts that alienated Kenna's fanbase long ago. I feel differently about that for two reasons: (a) “Chains” is the obviously poppy song, and it still sounds really good: with it getting airplay on MTV, wouldn't that be the “crossover” attempt?, and (b) Kenna doesn't have much of a fanbase anyway. Which I wish would fucking change already, as this EP is a brilliant pocket of music which, in a perfect world, would win over a new audience. Kenna reinvents his sound for the second time in his career, proving that he has what it takes to create some fucking entertaining music no matter what kind of restraints are placed upon him (such as a failed hard drive): Malcolm Gladwell was right to profile the man when he did. It's almost criminal that this EP isn't being promoted better than it is (yes, as I mentioned above, the video for “Chains” has been played on MTV, but do you have any idea how fucking early you have to wake up in the morning to catch an actual music video on that failure of a channel?), as Kenna deserves all of the acclaim that he can possibly carry. If you enjoyed New Sacred Cow and Make Sure They See My Face, then you probably already have this one in your possession, but everyone else who is able to look at the world without their hip hop blinders on should also give it a shot. It's only three tracks long, it's super-cheap, and chances are pretty good that you'll actually like it.




  1. AnonymousMay 09, 2011

    Personally I like the title ("Chaos and The Darkness" part; I don't care much for "Land 2 Air").
    And "Kharma Is Coming" I think is brilliant except for the bright/light(?) sounding hook.
    Everything else in this review seems spot on to my opinion.

  2. AnonymousMay 09, 2011

    My nephew and I love all of Kenna's music and can't wait for the next part of the EP trilogy.

  3. AnonymousMay 10, 2011

    I actually enjoy the fact that Kenna doesn't stick to one genre. It shows he cares more about the art of creating new music over reformatting the song style again and again to gain popularity. At the end of the day you'll get better quality of music if you don't have "chains" placed upon your creative process.

  4. Tile GroutMay 11, 2011

    As the music industry as-we-know-it continues its decline, we'll probably see much more of the genre-defying stuff. Which I agree is a very good thing. It's interesting how much we've been conditioned to mistrust something not easily categorized.

    But those days are over, along with $19.00 CDs (when minimum wage was only $4.25/hr - I'm looking at you, mid nineties!).

    Nice review.

  5. AnonymousMay 12, 2011

    Check your facts. KK does have a fanbase