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KEN mode
Null Alex Deller , September 22nd, 2022 08:24

The Winnipeg quartet take no prisoners on an album so brutal it feels like a punch in the face from the Trellick Tower

For twenty years and change KEN mode have been operating in an uncomfortable space of their own creation: a cramped, cruelly-angled crawlspace that they’ve been forced to inhabit because the entrance caved in almost as soon as they started work.

Born of a time when Pissed Jeans brought the snide, stumbling jeer of Fang and Flipper back to punk rock and the likes of Unpersons further dashed the Jesus Lizard up against Deadguy’s aberrant metalcore, the Winnipeg act have always been an uneasy and obnoxious listen. Now they’re in the same rare territory as bands like Oxbow, Big Business and Enablers – less so in sonic terms than their dogged impulse to keep on keeping on when it makes precious little commercial or physical sense to do so.

Rather than relent and court the peanut gallery as they approach their middle years, Null sees the band grit their teeth and double down instead, leaning into glorious, ornery abstrusion. Stripping back much of the maximalism of 2018’s excellent Loved the band open the floor to the grinding industrialisation and gurning no-wave of acts like My Disco, Regler and early Swans. While the splenetic, metallic fury of yore is only ever a stone’s throw away, the emphasis here is on queasy, stumbling lurches and the wonderfully tattered saxophone of multi-instrumentalist Kathryn Kerr – a sick-making combination that means KEN mode often feel like they’re taking the point most bands would use as their disintegratory conclusion as their initial building blocks.

Each track is like a nagging injury that has never quite healed: the squishy grind of worn out cartilage, or the tendon that forever threatens to tear afresh. Ten-minute whopper ‘Lost Grip’ drags itself up from the ground with funereal drum rattles, looming drones and desolate piano and closes on such a wonderful note of finality you wonder how any of us are ever going to carry on. The album’s actual closer, meanwhile opens with a scuttle of electronics and a deep, rage-suppressing inhalation before frontman Jesse Matthewson hollers “I’m unravelling so much faster than I used to!” and riffs the size of God start to bow inwards.

In many ways, the band get it all succinctly off their chest with the bleak refrain of opening track ‘A Love Letter’. “Something is broken! Something is fucked!” gnashes Matthewson, neatly summing up the album’s profoundly ugly sound and sentiment. The funny thing is, though, that in their mission to run as far from success and acceptability as possible, they might actually have penned the album that finally – finally – makes them.