Anyone dead set on having bands ready to sit in a specific pigeonhole concerning their genre must absolutely hate KEN mode. The Canadians have made music that spits, soothes, seduces and sets things on fire and that’s just in their last few releases. The stories told and feelings displayed through their particular style of noise have never relied on any particular sound or feature, which is a big part of their appeal. Loved, this year’s much anticipated follow up to Success takes the band down their darkest path yet, complete with menace and terror at every juncture, not to mention the bountiful crunchy riffs and spills of American noise’s noisier neighbours.
Who knew KEN mode could release something as intoxicatingly heavy as this? Well, KEN mode did. Obviously. The trio dish out the goods with skin-shredding attacks on their instruments and a typically lethal vocal battery. There’s a freakin’ plethora of dirty, dirty riffs and downright nasty passages of ravaged strings, battered skins and howlin’ pipes. No amount of studio fuckery can emulate the attack of powerfully struck bass strings and the tones generated on bass-heavy numbers like “Not Soulmates” and “Feathers & Lips” are up there with some of the gnarliest of all time; not that gnarly, though they are worthy of a stoned surfer flick of the horns. A staple of the band’s sound through the years, the wild strumming and all of the playful manipulation of the guitar’s signal with loops and feedback build the layers of discontent that the Canadians thrive in when playing their hearts out. It’s easy to get lost in this tumbling bag full of hammers, but an all-time peak percussive display insists that every beat is felt, none more obviously than in the dramatic shift of “Doesn’t Feel Pain Like He Should”.
All of the delightful loud bits aside, no one else is doing Canadian murder bayou jazz like KEN mode. “This Is A Love Test” is maybe the only example of something befitting such a ridiculous description, and what an example too. Loved doesn’t pull in the reigns very often – careening from somekindacore two-stepping and Melvins fan jam band blowout, magnificently, by the way,- and as such, the unease generated with the seedy sex is quickly turned into fears much more immediate with a nightmarish swing into another depraved, destabilising riff. KEN mode keep the corners of the rug in their hand, whipping it out from underfoot with a sharp tug and a mighty, throaty cackle. Still surprising us after all the years. For a release so rooted in the darker corners of the human condition et al, Loved is full of smiles and sneaky moments.
In the penultimate “Fractures In Adults”, there’s this picture-perfect moment where Matthewson belts out a hearty “oh, fuck yeah”, followed by an even more joyful “euuuuugh”. Only the stiffest upper lip won’t slip into a big dirty grin, one not unlike the all-knowing, all-in expression bestowing the dark figure of Loved‘s accompanying art. Amongst the panicked assault of distorted strings, and sputum soaked words it’s a wry smile aimed at the listener, letting us in on the joke for a second. Just for a second. The rest of the ride is spent with hairs on end and arses simultaneously planted on edges of chairs and pulled up by the seat of the pants. Sounds uncomfortable. Deal with it, stupid.
Summary paragraph time. Loved is a celebration of rock music, made possible thanks to some noisy folk using a very particular set of rusted sounds and rustic tools. Rustic in the sense that it’s pretty surprising to hear a band make music so devilish and sincere with their bare hands and assorted electronics operated by hand – and some chains, I think. This many years and records into life, a hard shift towards the shadows could have resulted in a desperate attempt to revive youthful angst and ending up sputtering in naive outbursts. KEN mode avoid this. Instead, taking the good, the bad, and the ugly and into yet another stellar genre-bender of a record. The hooks of this record dig in right under the skin and sit perilously close to raw nerves. Electrifying stuff.
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KEN Mode’s Loved sees release on August 31st via Season of Mist. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link above to pre-order it.