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Ian Kenny: unparalleled

OK, maybe that wasn’t the best headline, considering what I want to discuss today!

This genius, Kenny, with his nuclear weapon of destruction — i.e. his voice — juggles two very unique, yet in some ways very similar, bands.

If you are unfamiliar with the catalogue of Birds Of Tokyo and / or Karnivool, my advice would be to firstly check your pulse, then when you realise that you are still breathing and you haven’t lapsed into a fugue state for the past 18 years, educate yourself on these audio delights!

I’m going to start with the band that has been around longer, then the band that hasn’t been around quite so long, then list the parallels between the two which will in turn highlight how very different they are.

Karnivool

So: Karnivool formed in 1998 in Perth, Western Australia. They have since relentlessly performed countless live shows both on huge main festival stages and at local pubs and clubs around Australia.

Case in point: they have consistently graced one of my locals — Newcastle Panthers — for several years running. This year in May, they played their hit album Themata in full to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of its release, and as per usual their show was devoured by an eager, hungry crowd.

Sound Awake is their most commercially successful album with tracks like ‘Simple Boy’ and ‘New Day.’ One of my personal favourites, ‘Shutter Speed,’ is from Themata. I’m listening to it right now in fact, and that riff right before the bridge just shreds right through me.

Karnivool, best described as progressive rock, have this fierce level of energy and grace, with Kenny’s clean cut voice rising above a wall of grungy and hooky guitar riffs. While there are slight variations in the band’s catalogue — as there should be with any progressive artist — the winning combination remains the same.

That voice, though… seriously, you simply MUST get amongst it!

Birds Of Tokyo

Now then: Birds Of Tokyo have been around since 2004, and I must be honest and say that when I heard them for the first time with ‘Silhouettic’ that they didn’t grab me at first. To me, they were a little nervous, still trying to find their feet and Kenny desperately trying to distinguish this new act from his emerging Karnivool success.

Actually, I equate my Birds Of Tokyo love affair with that of an arranged marriage: at first, I wasn’t too sold on the idea, but then the more I got to know them, the more I saw them find their way and grow, the more I could see what they had to offer and just how much depth and beauty they had, the more I fell in love with them and appreciated the beginning stages of their journey.

A rhythmic and crisp-sounding alternative rock, Birds Of Tokyo exhibit an unmistakable energy and love of music in all that they do. They were sadly underrated and unknown for a number of years, and it wasn’t until releasing their self-titled album and ‘Plans’ hit the airwave that they were reverse-bungyed from obscurity and jet-setted into the limelight they deserve.

‘Plans’ is actually where my love affair began. I’d heard of Birds Of Tokyo, but didn’t sit up and take notice until this killer tune graced my ear drums. (“We made plans to kiss the sun at night / hopeless dreamers, hopeless times.”) Truth be told, this song is packed with loaded lyrics that I like to belt out when no one’s listening so I won’t bother quoting anymore of it to you: just believe me when I say you need to check it out if you haven’t already! I recommend starting with their self-titled album first, then working your way backwards and forwards in whichever order takes your fancy!

I saw Birds Of Tokyo at the Homebake music festival in Sydney back in 2012, and I was blown away. The energy from Kenny and the band was crackling — you could almost feel the electricity in the air — and it was one of the greatest concert experiences of my life.

Sorry I’ve been so brief in my descriptions of both bands! But I’m not here to write a biography: I’m just here to highlight the key points of this pioneer of Australian music. (Disclaimer: the polar opposites and parallels are not unique to each and every track. It would take me days to list them all! This is just an overall picture of what each band projects, both utterly brilliant in their own way.)

Polar opposites

  • Karnivool: brooding and surreal
  • Birds Of Tokyo: hopeful and romantic
  • Karnivool: gritty guitars with a more random structure
  • Birds Of Tokyo: more structured, with clean rhythmically-flawless guitars
  • Karnivool: sprawling echoes in music and vocals
  • Birds Of Tokyo: tightened and intimate music and vocals
  • Karnivool: angry and cathartic
  • Birds Of Tokyo:  wistful and empowering
  • Karnivool: living in the moment
  • Birds Of Tokyo: nostalgic

Parallels

  • Tireless, immortal energy levels when it comes to their touring schedule
  • Effort: not one single song by either band is half-arsed. They use their FULL arse at every turn
  • Emotion: anger, heartbreak, motivation, love, revenge, introspection, obsession… pretty much the full gamete!
  • Kenny pushes his vocals to the limit, gasping for air in between the lines he sings

I cannot say enough about this man, and I’m surprised it has taken me this long to write about him (I’m chalking that up to the procrastinating Libran in me!). No matter your circumstances, trust me: you NEED this man in your life!

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