A bassline stalks the shadows before slowly but purposefully creeping into view. Ominous vocals echo and shimmer onto the scene, chanting mantras that sound like ancient, otherworldly warnings. It’s over four minutes until the drums roll and crash, creating a backdrop that begins to build, mesmerizing the listener with guitars that swing around in circles, performing a swirling pagan ritual. That we are introduced to Namesake, the third album from Ten Kens, with “Death in the Family,” a seven-and-a-half-minute psychedelic odyssey, says everything about the minds, imaginations, and musical philosophy of the Canadian rockers. Where 2010’s For Posterity gave a nod in this bold direction, Namesake fully embraces the notion of taking songs off on dark, psychedelic tangents that often refuse to return. Dan Workman's vocal work is sublimely angelic with a disturbing twist, providing an eerie additional instrument more often than it does a hook. It can be frustrating when you consider his lyrical prowess on earlier Ten Kens material, but the results are mainly rewarding and, essentially, fit the setting perfectly. Brett Paulin's guitars complement Workman in dramatic fashion, constantly threatening to erupt from intricate, angst-ridden picking into a full-bodied wall of distortion. “Fetal Misgivings” is one of the finest examples of the Workman/Paulin partnership; a dreamlike mood carries the song along, calm and relaxed, until the guitar turns colossal and Workman drifts away, allowing the instrumental chaos to play out. Elsewhere, “German Purity” is a far more straightforward stoner rock number that provides a welcome, rather thrilling head-banging opportunity, while the simplified dynamics and more coherent feel of “The Field Around Your Van” feel slightly out of place among the ten tracks. Some may, however, see this as a welcome break from the deliberately oppressive nature of large portions of the album, which isn’t as immediate as earlier output and can seem hard work at first, but repeat listens breathe new life into Namesake. Over time you come to grips with its twists and turns, finding new ground emerging from the shadows.
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AllMusic Review by Daniel Clancy