I'm back. Sort of.
Quick thank-yous to everyone who consistently checked in on the blog during my recent hiatus. My personal life continues to crowd out the concepts of "posting regular updates", "keeping up with the latest trends in hip hop", and "using quotation marks annoyingly", but I've decided to fight back, bit by bit, by writing about an EP (a recent release, too!) that I just so happened to trip over while researching some other shit online. Sure, it's not a rap album by any stretch of the imagination, but (a) it does actually fit into my "finish what I started" project, and (b) I don't give a shit, you're getting new, infrequently-scheduled content, so stop complaining? Yes, that last phrase was a question. I'm out of the loop, so you have to ease me back in.
Back in 2011, four years after releasing his sophomore album Make Sure They See My Face on a major label (Interscope), Kenna Zemedkun kicked off a series of EPs that were to make up the Land 2 Air Chronicles series. Each of the three EPs was to include three tracks and were intended to lead up to the release of his third full-length effort, then titled Songs For Flight. The first entry, subtitled Chaos and the Darkness, included a song, "Chains", which I have previously described as some sort of Neptunes-produced Crystal Castles derivative co-written by Interpol's Paul Banks (okay, those weren't my exact words, but that's roughly what I said, and it was intended as a compliment), and it received a fair share of acclaim in my household and others like mine, if not anywhere else. A video was commissioned and played on MTV (which is where I first heard about the project, strangely: see, MTV still works, sort of, when they're not fucking around and playing actual music videos), and Kenna, along with producer and BFF Chad Hugo (of The Neptunes: he's the half of the duo who didn't appear on two of the hottest songs of the summer of 2013), danced off into the sunset, or at least pretending that they would drop the second entry at some time approximating "soon".
Here we are now, two and a half years later, and Kenna is just now getting around to dropping the second entry in the series. As so much time has passed, he had clearly forgotten what the original concept around the whole Land 2 Air Chronicles thing was (frankly, so have I), and also the fact that he was in the middle of something, so he has initiated a new series of EPs entitled Imitation Is Suicide. (The full official title of this EP is Land 2 Air Chronicles II: Imitation Is Suicide - Chapter 1, which is so obtuse and ridiculous that I'm going to try and limit how often I beef up the word count of this article by writing it out like that.) The idea behind this new series is self-explanatory: Kenna doesn't want to sound like anyone else currently performing. There is no problem here: with his self-professed love of 1980s New Wave and his fondness for the electronic trickery that Chad Hugo helps him find, Kenna has always been a unique voice in the music industry, if not the most successful one. As he is no longer signed to a major label, probably due to that whole "not the most successful one" thing, Kenna finds himself in a position where he has to promote his music any way he can, and he's chosen to do so by releasing music leading up to the release of more music.
Unsurprisingly, Kenna has already promised that the remaining two installments to close out the Imitation Is Suicide trilogy will see the light of day sooner rather than later. (Still no word on the third and final installment of the Land 2 Air Chronicles, though.) For the new series, our host has decided to work exclusively with a single producer for each chapter: the subject of the post today is handled by Chad Hugo, of course, but Chapter 2 comes with production handled solely by 9 Of Hearts, and the final installment produced by RJD2 (that one should be interesting). Currently signed to Steve Aoki's Dim Mak Records, Kenna believes that he is finally in a position where he will be able to get his message across and have his voice heard.
Me, I just love the fact that he keeps trying.
1. WILD, WILD LIFE
Kenna sounds equally at home drunk at the club and gazing longingly into his navel, so "Wild, Wild Life", an exercise in the former option, succeeds. Although not quite as effective as "Chains", my vote for one of the most underrated songs of 2011, Kenna uses Chad Hugo's instrumental to turn in a track you won't mind dancing to. Said instrumental is bouncy and melodic, which help Kenna's admittedly not-very-deep lyrics connect with the listener. Bonus points for not reminding me of the Talking Heads track with a similar, if not exactly the same, title.
2. RELATIONS (AN ODE TO YOU AND ME)
The first single, and the only one of these tracks that is currently available on Amazon, which means it's the only song mentioned in the obligatory Amazon link at the bottom of the post. Kenna has always had a fondness for 1980s New Wave and the like, which is probably why I dig the guy so goddamn much that I keep writing about him whenever he drops anything. Chad obliges him by giving our host (and, by proxy, us) a new twist on a synth-y beat, which Kenna promptly uses to convince some anonymous lady to engage in "relations". At times, he approaches Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon-levels of cheesiness-mixed-with-swagger, which is a great thing when it works. The hook is a bit frustrating, but the rest of the song overrides it fairly swiftly. Enjoyable, if not so much as the previous track.
3. GET IN CLOSER
Over a beat that leans so far into pop that Macklemore would have purchased it has had he half a chance, Kenna returns to one of his well-worn tropes, the love song, which puts him right in line with New Wave, where the artists therein love the shit out of love. The track is alright, but it is more than a bit forgettable, which is a concern when it's included on an EP with only two other songs...until Chad switches the beat roughly halfway through and the tone shifts from happy-go-lucky to romantic melancholy. Hugo's second instrumental is far more intriguing that the first half of "Get In Closer", as it gives Kenna's lines, which are basically the same throughout, a chance for the listener to hear them through a different set of ears. Not bad, but I wish we had gotten a chance to spend more time with the back half's music.
THE LAST WORD: (*deep breath*) Land 2 Air Chronicles II: Imitation Is Suicide - Chapter 1 is a quick listen that is enjoyable, if not as immediately so as his previous EP and two full-length albums. Kenna's vocals remain in a class of their own, equally adept at sounding longing or ecstatic and making both seem like the place to be right now. Chad Hugo's production mirrors our host's influences and is ultimately catchy enough to forgive any flaws on a three-track EP that doesn't even cost that much so come on, help the man out, alright? While you do that, I'll see what I can do about some actual hip hop reviews, which are still a thing that I do.
Read more about Kenna's work by clicking here.