Audio Odyssey: Ben Kenney


I have a new favorite member of Incubus. I know that it’s pretty immature to pick a favorite member of a band. I am aware of this. I’m also fully aware that I still laugh heartily at poop jokes and, given the choice, I’ll pick cartoons and breakfast cereal over a gripping documentary and a bran muffin nine times outta ten. So, I have a new favorite member of Incubus, and his name is Ben Kenney.

I got all four of Ben Kenney’s solo albums for free here. He offered them up for free, no catches whatsoever. He’s just a cool dude. I figured, you know, I’ll probably only kind of like this. It’s probably going to be pretty heavily R&B influenced, and probably just generally more like The Roots than Incubus, as Kenney was the guitarist for hip hop band The Roots before signing on as Incubus’s bassist. Boy howdy, was I wrong! It’s not like The Roots. At all. It’s not really like Incubus either. It’s its own animal. His solo work is, in a word, a mixed bag. That was three words. It’s true, though. If I had to throw it into a genre, I would say that it’s heavily influenced by the modern hardcore and punk sounds, with obvious influences from R&B, soul, hip hop and even some undeniable Beatles/Beach Boys harmonies in there. Add to this the fact that this dude can shred, and you’ve got all the makings for something pretty special. And that’s exactly what we’ve got here.

Ben Kenney’s solo work comprises four albums, 26, Maduro, Distance and Comfort and Burn the Tapes. The difference between Kenney and his band, Incubus, is that all of his solo albums sound like albums by the same person. They don’t vary so absolutely in style and tone. This music is exactly what I liked about some of the music I liked in high school, some of the darker stuff I was listening to toward the end of my high school career. But his lyrical content tends to be much more uplifting, or at least much less depressing. My favorite songs from each album are Worlds Collide from Burn the Tapes, a very pretty love song that could easily be re-recorded to sound like early Beatles stuff, Eulogy from Distance and Comfort, which is lyrically the exact song I’ve always wanted to write about death, and musically reminds me of Coheed & Cambria in the best ways, It’s Not Too Late from Maduro, which starts quiet, dark and tense, then unleashes three and a half minutes sonic fury, and Creme from 26, which is a sort of mellow and tense groove with a pretty pretty melody and a definite R&B influence.

These albums have their share of variation, though. There are seven instrumental tracks, varying from straight reggae to a dark, cinematic synth string section. There are songs with a little bit of rapping, there’s enough mellow stuff to balance out the more upbeat stuff that Kenney tends toward.

All in all, I got more than my money’s worth here. I got enough good music to make up for a lot of the bad music I’ve actually spent money on in the past.

Speaking of music I’ve spent money on in the past…

Oh, Korn. Did you know that they’re working on putting out a dubstep album? That’s right. Former posterboys for extreme teen angst are now working on a dubstep album. Head leaving the group was the downfall. But I’m not here to discuss their downfall since I’ve stopped listening to them. It’s all about what I currently have in my iTunes, and whether I should keep ahold of it or not. Let’s get to work here.

The first song I ever heard by Korn was Freak on a Leash. We all know that song. Jonathan Davis is at his victimized best here. Who here hasn’t thought, “Life’s gotta always be messin’ with me, can’t it chill and let me be free?” I am a little concerned with the middle section where Davis is apparently having a stroke while impersonating an angry pit bull. I imagine that happened accidentally in recording, and they thought to themselves, “Yeah! That sounds tortured, we should definitely throw it in there!” Shortly after hearing Freak on a Leash, I was completely hooked. I picked up Follow the Leader, Life Is Peachy, their self-titled debut and Issues all within about three months of one another. Where did I get all this money when I was 13? I don’t know. Questionable decisions.

You see, the problem with Korn is, they took the things that were so great about rock and roll from the 50s all the way through the grunge era and diluted them down to their absolute most simplistic and tortured cores. They are classified in my iTunes as Sham Rock. +1 for the pun, Past TR. Also, there’s an undeniable grain of truth to that classification. No one is as tortured as Jonathan Davis’s lyrics claim to be for as long as he claimed to be. He could’ve never remained functional under that kind of mental and emotional distress.

That being said, I’m four songs into what would be a 22 song, hour and a half affair with my past, and I had yet to really find anything redeeming about Korn. I thought Make Me Bad would be kind of a weird, cool song about lust, but it’s still riddled with anguish. I just don’t like this music. The tracks that I ultimately have ended up enjoying, once all the songs have been listened to and the dust has settled: Shoots and Ladders, Porno Creep (mostly instrumental), A.D.I.D.A.S., One (their fantastic Metallica cover that was only lacking a guitar solo to make it truly great) and, well, that’s it. The rest of the songs are gonna have to go by the wayside. They just aren’t good. In 1999, Korn fed my teen angst. In 2011, they make this self-assured 25-year-old cringe.

Next week, I’ll go with Sparklehorse’s Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. Catch you on the flippy floppy.

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About TR Snyder

I’m obsessed with The Beatles. I love fall and spring. I like to read. I like to watch TV. I believe in aliens and UFOs. My favorite movie is 500 Days of Summer. I’m a sucker for a good zombie flick though. I play guitar, bass, uke and blues harp. All at a distinctly mediocre level. I often forget to zip my fly. I love to cook. I went to school for poetry. Let’s see, what else? Long walks on the beach, the smell of the wind before rain, candlelight dinners, etc. I hate auto-tune. I can’t emphasize that enough. I also hate drum machines. I want to learn drums and piano. And a second language. Probably French.