A wail of feedback, a sludgy, laconic riff, a jarring bass line and Success(Season of Mist) shudders into being in the style of that too-cool-to-give-a-fuck band that ambles on stage and begins the song with each member starting at their own pace and point of choice. KEN Mode, kings of the post-surf/noise rock power-trio kingdom stroll acerbically into their sixth album.
Jesse Matthewson, known for intelligent, confrontation and biting observations, has chosen to measure his delivery this time, and most of his outpourings are part-spoken and spat, rather than roared or thrown from his maw, seemingly intent on imparting off-centre soundbites. “I would like to kill the nicest man in the world” he states at the outset of ‘These Tight Jeans’, where he trades off lines with Jill Clapham in both a catchy and knowingly cool fashion, channelling his inner Jesus Lizard.
The hand of Steve Albini is present all through, as the In Utero (Geffen) producer skuzzes up ‘The Owl’, an astringent swagger with stoner undertones, before a bass crunk and cello mid-section pull the song into a discordant yowl over clashing chords, as KEN Mode play with the notion of traditional song-structure effectively. Sonic Youth would be proud.
Yet all is not rosy in KEN and Barbie’s world. There is a nagging feeling that while Clutch (for whom KEN Mode certainly owe a something to) are naturally and instinctively quirky, for the first time KM things feel a bit forced, as if stating “Handfuls of proverbial shit tossed over and over against that same proverbial wall” (‘Blessed’) is a little close to the mark, and that moving to a more caustic pop sound may be contrived, such as on the overly self-aware and smug ‘A Passive Disaster’. The cap might not fit at the moment, but all it would take is adjusting the clasp at the back. At times, this new KEN Mode just sits a little uncomfortably. But then such doubts are stomped to dust by the rising dynamic of ‘Management Control’ which builds to feedback end, or the exemplary dark, brooding, sprawling ‘Dead Actors’, that recalls The Doors clashing with a more progressive Nirvana.
Mixing a Clutch of stoner, a Tad of grunge and pinch of Mudhoney slovenliness in their Helmet of groove, KEN Mode can consider their transition a Success. Just.