Tuesday, January 30, 2018

SweetKenny - "The Dogs Are Watching" CD Review!!

It's now time for our 103rd monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're taking a look at Dafter, Michigan hard rock solo artist Ken "SweetKenny" Sutton's recent album "The Dogs Are Watching"! Officially considered his 22nd solo album, this release has been followed up with newer albums named "Assassins" & "Escape of the Desert Rat" at press time, but we chose this album for review due to it being heavier overall. Released on August 18th, 2017 and recorded last year at Waterfall Records, "The Dogs Are Watching" is the ninth of SweetKenny's official solo timeline to serve primary purpose as a score for intended usage in films, television, or video games, rather than a traditional rock album, with Ken himself providing all instrumentation therein. You can buy this album on Bandcamp for $7, on Google Play for $9.49, and on iTunes for $9.90, while single song purchases exist also, and you can stream the entire album for free as well on Bandcamp and through SweetKenny's website. Featuring 10 songs running for over 36 minutes in length, let's begin our fourth review of a SweetKenny score album!

Thematically, Ken intends this album to be about hackers preventing excessive oversight from the government and their watchdogs, but licensees could theoretically adapt songs as they wished. The first song is "Tracking IP Address", which is a techno/keyboard instrumental that has an ominous keyed opening. The two sounds make for an interesting contrast, and I don't hate it! If anything, it's a little repetitive by the end, and while I don't picture piano music during IP tracking, the deliberately paced techno half makes up for that. Not really a rock song, but effective in it's own way! Second is "Oversight Committee", which maintains usage of a keyboard and a techno beat, but the song has a little more in the way of rock instrumentation, so it feels like a fuller composition. There is an odd percussion bit here that sounds like repeatedly spraying an aerosol can, but nothing else comes out of left field. Good track for what is is, with a casual yet serious rhythm to it!

That is followed by "The Dead Sec." ("Secret" or "Secretary", maybe?) This song is more of a soft guitar performance with a dark techno undercurrent, featuring more keyboard input as well. Given the implication of someone/something ending or dying, this song has the requisite downbeat feel, while maintaining the techno elements of songs' past, and it never feels overlong, which is a plus! That said, it won't appeal to fans of SweetKenny's faster and heavier recordings. Fourth is "Hackers Underground", which is a dark techno number that maintains a reserved pace throughout, presumably to be the background music as said hackers did their work. The mood set here is effective, and the song accomplishes what it sets out to do, but to me, earlier songs have more variance to hold my attention. Not badly composed, but it doesn't stand out the same.

The first half concludes with "Alex's Recon" (I assume Alex is a military soldier tracking the hackers?) By far the longest song on "The Dogs Are Watching", this 6½ minute track has a steady marching rhythm and arguably the heaviest sound yet on the album, but given that it's intended to be set in a reconnaissance mission, you know that serious stuff is going down. Even a gun is heard being cocked mid-way through! The dark ambiance is very effective here, and while the song isn't short, it's never boring as it helps set the mood of the intended mission. One of the album's highlights so far! Sixth on the album is "The Creepies", which runs for an album-low 98 seconds. This brings back the dark techno sound, and honestly, the song does sound like it's creeping up on you with how it progresses and introduces it's instrumentation! It sounds like it's building to something big, but ultimately, it's short length is anticlimactic. Effective while it lasts though!

Track #7 is "Hackers", which also runs for a relatively short time, but it packs a lot in with arguably the "heaviest" sound yet, even if it is a full techno number! If "Hackers Underground" from earlier in the album was also of them at work, than things are ramping up three tracks later! There's not a whole lot new to add, but if you like the dark vibe and techno focus, this will be right up your alley, and it does feel like a substantial track despite it's short length! Then we have "Revelation 360", which is the most unique song yet on the album, which has a minimalist sound almost reminiscent of the backing music when you enter an empty hall in a video game, but halfway through it diverts course and welcomes in fuller instrumentation and a bit of techno and guitar input. The song definitely stands out as it's own piece, especially thanks to it's white noise-esque close, and while I appreciate the diversity, I prefer the dark techno of earlier songs just for my own personal preference.

Ninth is "A Job Well Done", presumably signifying that the hackers completed their mission. This is full-on techno, giving the vibe that they're celebrating at a nightclub, though I somehow doubt Ken had that in mind. I miss the darker edge here, but given where this is intended to take place in the score, I understand the upbeat mood. If anything, the repetitive skipping that comes in twice grinds the action to a halt, but it does what it's supposed to do! The sort-of title track "Watch Dogs" closes the album with a return to the dark techno stylings of prior songs, and it has a catchy beat to it's percussion that I like, plus some of the most prominent guitar work yet! The song has the vibe of a credits song, as if you've completed the movie/game, and it works well on that basis to end the album on a high note, even if it runs a little longer than it probably needs to!

So, what are my final thoughts on this recent SweetKenny score album? Overall, it's an interesting chapter in his mid-late 2010s focus on scores, and while it won't satiate some fans desires for a full-length follow-up to "In Your Face", it's effective at what it sets out to do! I feel like I threw around variants of the term "dark techno" throughout the review, and while Ken doesn't cross into Prodigy-levels, that term is apt, as for a score intended to be about government hackers, what would fit better: electronica or hard rock? Some songs had more of a rock base than others, like "Watch Dogs" in particular, while songs that fully embraced the intended sound worked the best, like "Hackers" and "Alex's Recon". The album had it's repetitive moments, and some songs ended a little too soon, but remember that the album is intended to tell one story. Of the four SweetKenny scores that I have reviewed, "The Hitman Files" remains my favourite musically, but this one may have taken second place for it's overarching story and mood, especially compared to "Epic" from last spring.

If you like techno rock and prior SweetKenny scores, give "The Dogs Are Watching" a listen above, whether you're a fan, newcomer, or interested in licensing this for a score! That's all for today, and as for next month's CD review.... I am leaning towards one of Sault Ontario solo musician Mike McCleary's new solo EPs, either "Hourglass" or the brand new "Weight of the Truth", which just came out yesterday, so look for our full write up on that in the coming days also, and for more news and notes too! Thanks everyone!

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