Sound Advice: Namesake by Ten Kens

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Sound Advice: Namesake by Ten Kens

A Toronto band known for "thinking man's heavy rock" releases its third full-length.

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Ten Kens defines its sound as “thinking man’s heavy rock.” Its songs are energetic, quirky, and slightly aggressive rock tunes that tend to fracture in the middle and fray around the edges. The band has always been interested in exploring the erosion of genre boundaries, and its third full-length release, Namesake, continues in that vein.

While the record first appeared in digital-only format last fall, Namesake is now getting a full, physical release that includes four new, previously unreleased tracks. It comes out on May 21.

For its first two releases, Ten Kens worked with Last Gang and Fat Cat records. For Namesake, the band has struck out entirely on its own. Core duo Brett Paulin and Dan Workman, who have always been responsible for all the songwriting, also handled all of the recording and production this time around. This pulling inward and holding close has paid off, as Namesake is not only more dense and complex than Ten Kens’ previous releases, but also more musically varied. Layers of composition and production can create a hazy, almost dream-like effect on some tracks, whereas others are more spare and bright, broken apart by gleaming drums.

Some of the tracks on Namesake have a stoner rock, even vaguely psychedelic vibe, like “Whatever Man” and the crisp-but-chill “Take Me To Your Leader.” “Above the Ego” is a much more upbeat and classically positive rock track, with just enough flaunt and flourish to keep it the tiniest bit weird. “Calm of the Car” and “When A Door Opens” are more plaintive and atmospheric, even haunting, with carefully picked chords dovetailing with the emotive vocals.

It’s when Ten Kens is at its most aggressive, however, that Namesake really shines. “Death In The Family” has a crunchy, glorious heaviness to it that keeps the pulse up, and “Bliss” is easily an album highlight. (You can listen to “Bliss” by clicking the sample, above.) Featuring some of the heaviest riffs on the record, as well as remarkably effective duelling vocals and organic, pulsing drums, it showcases the band at its finest and fullest. While some acts falter when they eschew label support in favour of complete creative control, Ten Kens has thrived and produced its finest work yet.

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