That the first thing one hears on Ten Kens’ self-titled debut album is a soaring kind of ethereality is testament to their ambient ornamentation. That the second thing one hears is a blast of low-end guitar and bass is proof of just how heavy they ultimately are beneath that sweet veneer. The Toronto quartet is neither a direct descendent of the Black Sabbath heritage of sludge, nor a graduate of the Cocteau Twins Academy of Gloss. Yet, somehow, these elements come together, smashing upon a wonderfully crafted chunk of fuzz pop that stands as one of the year’s most fun debuts.
Ten Kens’ reference points are familiar and even somewhat expected—The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Pavement—yet there’s a certain energy and allure to what Ten Kens does that sets them apart from the typical, run-of-the-mill indie acts clogging our mail box these days. They’re not just catchy, not just hard rocking. Ten Kens has a sort of innovative and powerful take on fuzzed-out indie rock, with traces of early ’80s post-punk, that with a few well-placed riffs and hooks just subtle enough not to be overwhelming, they’ve moved clearly beyond `promising’ and well into `awesome.’
The dichotomy between their darker and lighter sides are most clearly on display within leadoff track (and wonderfully titled) “Bear Fight.” Riffs rage within open space, drums crashing, tension mounting, and ultimately a jangly guitar riff guides the song back toward a forward thrusting kind of doom pop. A lo-fi, reverb-addled guitar opens the eerie “Downcome Home,” itself an entirely different sort of highlight, combining The Pixies’ punchy pop with Gun Club style gothic punk. “Refined” gets a touch of melodica, while “Y’all Come Back Now” struts lazily over a sexy, Some Girls style beat. “Spanish Fly,” by the by, borrows its Middle Eastern riff from “Killing An Arab,” yet injects a bit of McLusky-style snot, and “The Alternate Biker” finds its mojo somewhere between dancepunk and Morricone. If that’s not a cool mixture of styles, I don’t know what is.
If there’s an air of familiarity in Ten Kens’ music, it’s only a slight one. For an accessible, crunchy and immensely likable band, they tend not to lean much toward one specific sound, opting instead to stretch catchy indie pop sounds into unexpected places. Long may their reverb ring.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.