Mermaid Song (Teaser) is available at:
22nd June, 2017
The full-length version will be available on iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music from 1st July, 2017
THINGS I want to discuss in this review include….
getting your music played in unique and impressive places; cinematic songs and haunting melodies; Kate Bush as an influence; Russia and artists who emanate from here – a little bit about quirkier songs and sourcing inspiration from unexpected sources. Before I come to look at Kat Kenna and her upcoming single, I wanted to return to a theme I have addressed a couple of times: projecting a sense of theatre and cinema. Music is, for many people, a source of escape but it is a way into another world. If an artist does things ‘right’ – creates original songs and does something genuinely different – it can be a wonderful experience. I find myself bonding with artists who are a little bit special and have that additional something. In terms of Kenna’a sound; she produces songs that have emotion and passion but grander strands working away. I listen to a song like Mermaid Song and, whilst it has that inner-charm and relatability – there is a lot of different sounds working away in an atmospheric and powerful number. One of the best things I find in new musicians is when you get to entrench yourself in a song and go somewhere magical. It might seem exaggerated, but I use music as a way to detach from problems and find something safer and comforting. If an artist can pen a song that makes me forget my woes and provides wonderful scenes and stunning images – they are going to lodge in my mind and compel me to investigate further. Music, at the moment, is definitely in the spotlight for a number of reasons. Not only is Glastonbury still raging but there is a lot of negativity and division in the country. I raised it in a feature (yesterday) and wondered where the Urban explosion is. We are seeing people speak out against the government and a lot of strife and stress invade the street. It is a fragile time and, for that reason, music has an important role to play. Not only is there an opportunity to project the sort of anger and questions we are seeing all around us but unite people. Listening to Kat Kenna’s music and one is afforded the chance to step into another world and have their senses lifted.
There are few artists who depart from the traditional love song and offer the listener anything fascinating and original. What I love about Kenna’s music is the way it gets inside the head and draws the listener into her mind. It is a place where the conventional and extraordinary mingle alongside one another. Whilst I yearn to discover artists who attack the problems we see and provide guidance; there is a part of me that wants to dive into escapist music that can lift my mood and intrigue the imagination. Kat Kenna has traded in conventional love songs but, on the evidence of her latest number, is not like her peers. I know I keep banging on about artists that stick to the ordinary love song but there is no end in sight. Even if you are a prolific mainstream artist, you can pen songs that depart from normal once in a while and still retain your audience. I feel there is too much tepidness and safety with our mainstream artists. It is down to unsigned/underground musicians to give the consumer music that strays into quirky and unusual territory. I will come to other areas soon but, listening to Kenna’s music, think it is important to address that cinematic-haunting dynamic. One bandies a word like ‘cinematic’ around and gets the idea it’s going to be biblical, rousing and epic. In a lot of cases, that word relates to music that has edge, grandeur and vivacity. Kenna ensures her music projects vivid views and characters; paints fantastic possibilities and a sense of the beautiful. Mermaid Song – which gets it full release next week – could be used in an indie film or romantic comedy. With a title like that, one might think it is a song Flight of the Conchords might write but, in actuality, it is a stunning and full-bodied song that could easily fit into the mainstream – albeit, offer credibility and an edge that is lacking there right now. I hope the song does appear on a T.V. show or film because it has that individuality and potential. Kenna, when writing, has managed to provide some shadier, darker edges but married it to a wonderful vocal/composition that means it has enormous appeal and adaptability.
Although Kat Kenna is starting out at the moment, she has been performing for a long time and had her music used on a soundtrack for a Russian film, Rehearsals. Today, a lot of artists have to gig endlessly to fund their career and struggle to break into profit. Music is a tough industry where one has to expend a lot of passion and energy with very little reward. In order to get into the black, many are pushing themselves to the limits and, in many cases, having to do a full-time job. It is an exhausting industry but one driven by passion and determination. Kenna, who is about to release her first single, has seen her music being used in Russian production – where she used to live – and had that exposure. I am interested discovering how musicians get their work used on film and T.V. scores. It seems like one would need to have a long career – and that exposure in the public eye – before people approached you. Not only has Kenna has her music used in a Russian film but seen (her music) on compilation C.D.s. All very important and impressive steps in a career arc that is seeing her get some impressive bookings in the U.K. I will come to that later but, before that, want to expand on film and T.V. and how rare it is to find – artists that do get their songs used and have the chance to find new audiences. I am not sure how big Russian cinema is – compared to here and the U.S. – but it must be wonderful hearing your music on the big screen. A lot of times, film music is instrumental or sources from mainstream/famous artists. I watch films and you hear popular songs and legendary artists being represented. Other times, there is only a score: rarely does one hear a new artist having their music put on the big screen. Kenna has that modest success and plaudit but it is not to be underrated.
There are few who can claim their songs have made it onto a cinema screen and seen by a film-going audience. Not only has she got that attention in Russia but had her music used on U.K. compilation C.D.s. Maybe it is that atmospheric quality but I think there is something else: a gracefulness and unique edge that many people do not possess. With Kat Kenna, one hears an artist who has a filmic/cinematic quality to her. Looking at her and one can imagine her appearing in films and dramas. There is a definite beauty but an adaptable talent. She could appear in a Gothic drama or an offbeat road film; a grittier British drama or a mainstream romantic comedy. It might seem like a strange tangent but, when one sees and hears Kenna, one imagines her career taking her into films. Maybe she has acting ambitions and those kinds of credentials but it is a definite possibility. Because of this, there seems to be that knowledge and understanding of the filmmaking industry and the sort of music producers want. I know there are not too many film/soundtrack inclusions on her C.V. but that is going to change. There are not many people who can boast about having their music used in films so it is something Kenna should take pride in. Kenna tells stories and has a fantastic narrative voice. Because of that, it is unsurprising to have that film credit – a reason why I expect to find her music being taken to heart by British filmmakers. I feel Mermaid Song could find itself in a drama or comedy because of its flexibility and nuance. The song, upon first listen, summons scenes and possibilities so I can well imagine a young director/producer seeing that potential. Music and film have always intertwined and had a close relationship and I think it is important to encourage that romance. For new musicians, it is an invaluable source of finance and a chance for their music to reach a whole new set of people. More importantly, it is a sense of validation; knowing their music has that potential and popularity.
Kat Kenna resides in London but moved here from Russia. In the past couple of months, I have looked at a couple of Russian artists and the music scene there. Like many European nations; Russia adopts the popular sounds of the U.S. and U.K. There are native stars but the best music comes from Britain and America so it is understandable people in countries like Russia listen to music from there. I feel, when we look at certain countries, there are clichés and stereotypes that spring to mind. If one imagines Russia and you might think the music is going to be quite edgy, dark and foreboding. That might play to a certain image we have of Russian music but it would be unfair. Kenna grew up in a unique part of Russia where ancient pagan Mari tribes mix with Slavic culture. It was/is a part where supernatural beliefs and magic are taken rather seriously. People like me might find that worrying and a little credulous but it is an integral part of the culture. There are nations and cultures throughout Africa where spirituality, dark magic and strange idols are worshipped and taken very seriously. It is not surprising discovering these kinds of practices in Russia. One can only envisage the kind of people and sounds Kenna was exposed to and how instrumental that would have been. We here might find Mari people and Slavic cultures foreign but for Kenna, it would have been a normal part of her life. Listening to Mermaid Song and you understand where it is coming from. There is oddness and quirk but not one that proffers false ideals and the supernatural. Instead, there is that exotic and beguiling mix of cultures and practices Kenna grew up around. She is a self-taught musician and appeared in the finals of Pop Idol Russia.
It is amazing to think a person could appear on a show like Pop Idol and have a young upbringing that involved Mari tribes. The two would not go together, one thinks, but there you have it. Were Kenna to not have had that experience, one argues she would be a less interesting writer and not have the exceptional qualities she does. I think of Russia and know there are some great artists there but, one suspects, not the thriving scene many of its artists would hope. I am seeing a lot of musicians come from Russia to the U.K. Maybe there is a political reason behind this migration – Putin’s regime and the young feeling rather nervous right now – or the fact Russia is not quite as impressive as the U.K. – when it comes to music and chances available. That said, the nation does have a few great venues and has sported some wonderful talent. What fascinates me about Russia is the traditional cultures and sounds that we do not have here. As I said; Kenna has assimilated these into her music and provided it spice, mystique and the enchanting. We have political strife here but do not have many niche cultures that can inspire musicians. Apart from African and Asian influences; there are not many minor religions and tribes that one can discover. I am not sure whether that is a good/bad thing but, from a musical perspective, it would be wonderful to see. I urge curious musicians to travel to countries like Russia and take inspiration away. I can only imagine what it was like being surrounded by Mari tribes and Slavic sounds. Whilst I am not one who has any time for magic and the supernatural; someone like Kat Kenna would have had her eyes and mind opened, for sure. One can hear a sense of magic and supernatural feed into Mermaid Song. Away from less-than-conventional tribes and cultures; Russia has a very active music scene and would have provided Kenna with a lot of impetus and drive.
She is now in London and, I feel, the perfect place for her. Following her social media feeds and I have seen how affected she was by the terrorist attacks in the capital. She has been shocked – like all of us – by the brutality and horror we have witnessed. Her heart is definitely in London and, let’s hope, her body remains here for many years. I feel artists like Kat Kenna have an important role to play right now. I mentioned how there is a need to articulate a sense of anger and impatience – owing to the way the government has let its people down and ignoring those in need. Against the tide of outrage and anger is that need to project love and togetherness. This is where Kenna comes in. Many of her peers are producing music and soundbites that promote a sense of unity and uplift. She performs at London’s The Finsbury on 3rd July – and will have other gigs approaching. I feel London has the spirit and people Kenna can take guidance from. Her debut single has an odd love story at heart but I know Kenna is taking a lot of heart and inspiration from the people around her. I expect her forthcoming E.P. will reflect a sense of where she is now and wants to head. Having arrived from Russia a few years ago now, it seems like this is her musical home. I can tell how much music means to her and London (and the U.K.) is the perfect place to foster and further that love. Whether she chooses to appear on talent shows here or not; I feel Kenna will take the self-producing route and do music her own way. She has a lot of potential and music in her and I am fascinated seeing how that progresses and evolves in the coming years.
Mermaid Song, as I will explain, deals with an unconventional coming-together and has its body and mind by the sea. It is a song one imagines stems from literature and a rather charming tale. It is not your ordinary and predictable love song and, because of this, I wanted to look at the more left-field side of music. I hinted how the mainstream is still overrun with uninspired love songs and less willing to depart from the convention. There are artists who provide music with a bit more edge and originality but, if one wants something extraordinary and different, you have to go to the underground. It is not to say Kenna’s future sounds will all have the same unusual flavour as Mermaid Song but it is wonderful hearing someone who takes a different approach. Over the past couple of weeks, I have reviewed a few artists who look to the water when it comes to their music. It might sound niche, but there is something alluring and addictive about the sea and its potential. Not only in terms of the romance one associates with its views and stillness; there is that mystical, fictional aspect that many writers are co-opting. Kenna’s single brings together a sailor and mermaid in a song that has twists and turns – you think it is going to end violently but has a sweeter ending. It can be hard writing these kinds of songs but they are less personal than you’d imagine. Naturally, Kenna has to detach from her own experiences and project something fictional. It is a lot easier writing songs about your own life but I find it much more impressive when musicians borrow from literature and fantasy. Consider songwriters like Björk and Kate Bush (more on her, soon) and they have amassed legions of fans because they do not do things the same way as everyone else. Sure, they write about traditional love but take their mind and music to special and unusual places.
Mermaid Song is a track that has grace and passion but that unusual spirit that will linger for a very long time. Perhaps Kenna’s Russian background and unorthodox childhood has led her to the music she makes now but I feel Kenna is one of those spirits that refutes the ordinary and chases the extra-special. I know there are a lot of people who are getting tired of the predictable nature of mainstream music. Inflexible and pedestrian a lot of the time; where does one go if they want to hear music with a lot more life and originality? Kat Kenna is one of many new artists taking a stand and offering the music-lover something more detailed, deep and fascinating. What I love about Kenna’s music is the potential it has. She has more material coming very soon as I am looking forward to seeing what her other songs contain. Whether we have peculiar love songs and oceanic trials, I am not sure but there are going to be few one-dimensional love songs. Many would argue those quirkier, less-traditional artists do not have the substance and commercial appeal you’d hope for. That is true of many artists but not with Kenna. She has a great knowledge and understanding of music and is not going to balk against that. There is enormous commercial/mainstream potential to Kenna’s music but there is extra flavour, colour and sense of the majestic. Because of this sense of individuality, Kenna is getting gig chances and finding more fans come her way. It is always tough taking your first steps in music but it will be a productive and exciting time for Kenna. She has a wonderful city at her feet and establishing herself as a magnificent singer-songwriter. When she does take to the stage at The Finsbury, it will not be long until more gigs come her way. The more people she gets her music out to; the more confident she will become – and that will lead to greater productivity and ambition.
Before I come to Mermaid Song, I want to look at one of my music idols: the always intoxicating, Kate Bush. She is an artist who always motivates me and, when looking at my record collection, responsible for some of my most-treasured memories. The Kick Inside is my favourite album and one I associate with immense beauty and the sensual. I can see links between Mermaid Song and, say, Wuthering Heights. There is that slight eccentricity and taking inspiration from an unusual place. Bush’s record-breaking number one took from a classic work of literature and stunned listeners with its confidence, peculiarity and sheer confidence. Kenna is a fan of Kate Bush and you can tell in a lot of ways. I find Kate Bush creeping into modern music a lot. It is not only female artists who take guidance from the legendary artist. I am not sure if Kate Bush is going to release any more material at all (let’s hope she does!) but her influence and importance cannot be denied. There are few that have had such an impact on modern artists. I hear a lot of the newcomers and detect various points in Bush’s career. Few can match the vocal dynamism and range – Bush has that unique personality and projection – but there are other elements of Bush’s aesthetic many are taking to heart. In a way, given Kenna’s exposure to Russian cultures and the supernatural; it is unsurprising someone like Kate Bush so have such an effect. She, even on her debut album, talked about spirituality and the unusual. Not quite as extreme as Mari tribe but, on songs like Strange Phenomena and Moving, she looked at synchronicity, sexuality and coincidence; The Kick Inside and Room for the Life looked at birth and motherhood whilst Them Heavy People investigated the teachings of Jesus and learning as much as you can whilst young. The Man with the Child in His Eyes is a child worrying about the fate of her man – maybe lost at sea and consumed with worry. I can imagine an album like The Kick Inside provided much inspiration for a curious Kenna. One can hear some familiarities in Mermaid Song.
Later Bush albums like Hounds of Love and The Dreaming would have given guidance to Kenna – Hounds of Love’s second-half was about someone lost at sea, hoping for rescue and salvation. Kate Bush is, it might sound obvious, one of the most influential artists of all time and we can see her music transferring to the young generations. Vocally, Kenna has elements of Bush, too. There are those high and breathless notes; the same sense of drama and theatre. It is a beguiling blend that instantly transports the mind somewhere distant and wonderful. I am not sure how this Kate Bush fandom will manifest itself on Kenna’s E.P. but I would not be surprised were there moments that recalled Bush’s finest songs. I am fascinated by artists’ influences and how important it is in regards their own music. Listening to Kat Kenna and the heart and mind embrace in an electrifying tango. The heartbeat is strong and connects with a love song with a difference. The soul is made curious and involves itself in the story. In fact, the mind is pricked and the body forced to move. Mermaid Song activates all the senses and leaves you wanting more. I have mentioned Kate Bush a lot in these pages but next year will be a very important one: forty years since the release of The Kick Inside. It is extraordinary to think the album is that old – I remember hearing it a lot as a child – but it seems as fresh and important as the day it was released. I am not sure if Kenna is a big fan of that album but I can see comparisons between her music and that contained within the 1978 masterpiece. Given the fact so much of today’s music is stagnant and rigid; having Kate Bush’s legacy and brilliance kept alive is brilliant to see. Let’s hope that continues (not just when looking at Kenna) because it means music is a much more interesting and magical place.
The mermaid remains in the water and offers the air from her lungs – evocative and striking words that open Mermaid Song. That gorgeous, pin-sharp voice rises and choirs with pride and passion in the opening seconds. There is little build-up – except for the sound of the ocean crashing – before we hear Kenna’s voice take control. It is an enchanting and unexpected to hear something as beautiful and immediate. The first words take you down to the ocean-side tranquillity and the solitude of the shore. The mermaid, it seems, is a Siren that has brought the sailor to the rocks. Much like a ship of men been lured to the cliffs; here, the hero seems immersed in the waters and struggling for breath. The fact the heroine/mermaid is offering air and safety suggests something has already happened. The heroine is bringing the ill-fated sailor to the shore. She offers a sense of relief and chance to catch the breath. The composition remains quite light and unobtrusive: it gives Kenna’s voice the chance to project and work. From those high notes from the off; the tone is more grounded and lower. Her style changes from ethereal to conversational – a way of transition from setting the scene to explaining the story. There is a narrative and story arc that one can follow from the start. You are engrossed in a peculiar love story that could have been torn from the pages of classic literature. I swam in the song and saw myself an onlooker, as it were. The ravaged sailor – or in the midst of the crashing waves – is being guided back to land and in the arms of the alluring mermaid. Being a fictitious/fantasy – mermaids not existing, and all – the listener is free to project their own story. If it was a deeply personal love song, it might be harder to bond with and, as such, the appreciation might be limited.
Different genres and styles come into Mermaid Song. There are electronic buzzes that come into the song; Folk details and a Pop overture. It is a mix of sounds and colours that gives the song so many surprises and twists. The heroine looks into the blue eyes of the hero and wants him to stay with her. Maybe, traditionally, a sailor would kill a mermaid – or vice versa – and there is a sense it will all end in tragedy. Kenna’s voice rises back up and has a sweetness that gets into the heart. Nobody can deny how impressive and impactful her voice is but, the more you listen, the more depth and nuance you discover in it. Drums gallop and pound as Kenna opens her heart and wants the hero to return to dry land. She will always remember him but wants safety and compassion. Were the man to stay in the ocean, his life would be fraught and there would be inherent danger. In a way, she is performing a kindness and ensuring her hero makes his way back home. She will, as it is said, always remember him and carry him in her heart. There is something touching and pure about the mermaid’s words. There is no selfishness and hostility knowing the hero is going to return to land. There might be a sense he wants to remain there and not be separated. Maybe tears are being held back but there is impracticality to the romance. The mermaid will always remember her man but there is no way they can remain. Few can deny the tease and sense of romance when thinking of the ocean – there is that solitude and lack of responsibility. I am not sure what brought the two together: a shipwreck perhaps or the fact they have known one another for a long time now. It is interesting proffering interpretation but, living in the moment, sad to see them split.
I love the details and layered vocals. The drum acts like a heartbeat and adds urgency to the mix. There are strings and electronic sounds that provide the sound and smell of the sea. The heroine, Kenna, casts herself as the mermaid – watching the man step onto dry land (warning him not to run) and always watching him. I wonder, when hearing the development and conclusion of the song, whether it is an adaptation of a personal experience. Of course, Kenna did not, literally, romance from the ocean but, maybe, there is a painful breakup from her past she has put into Mermaid Song. That feeling of having to say goodbye – although it is not ideal and easy – because one of the parties will be hurt. At its core; there is a very relatable and human experience we can all relate to – even if the lyrics are fantasy-based and story-like. I am stunned by the breadth and strength of the song. For a debut single, it is extremely confident and sounds complete. There are no nerves or weak moments at all. Everything is realised and assured from the very first bars – a fantastic song from a young artist who a lot of years ahead of her. Mermaid Song has an unusual edge but, the more you get into the song, the less ‘out-there’ it seems. By the end, I was hoping more words would be coming. The story sees the hero go back to land whilst the mermaid watches from afar. At all times, I was looking inside metaphors and wondering if the sea/land, mermaid/sailor were embodiments of emotions and places. Maybe Kenna has experienced something heart-breaking and this is the way to deal with it. Perhaps the song is, literally, as it appears – every listener will have their own thoughts.
I will wrap things up by recommending, next week; you get a hold of Mermaid Song and follow Kat Kenna. She is a promising artist I can see going a very long way. Before I revert to some earlier points, I will look ahead and what is in store for Kenna. I have mentioned her gig at The Finsbury already. That is somewhere she is going to love playing. I have been a couple of times and always it is a wonderful space that brings in a great range of people/musicians. There is an E.P. coming up so it is a busy time for Kat Kenna. She has a lot to think about and will be busy in the coming months. I know there are a lot of venues that would love to feature her music and host her. London is a huge city that is growing larger and more exciting. Musicians are flocking to the city and keen to immerse themselves in the frenetic energy and life of London. It is crowded, yes, but there is so much activity and choice. You can never get bored here and, for the musician, they have the best music scene in the world. Not only does London have some of the best artists in the world but some of the finest venues. I am not sure what Kenna has in mind for the remainder of the year but I am sure promotion is a bit part of that. I will take things down but want to revisit a few different themes: Russia and the differences here; Kate Bush and her influences; songs that have a peculiar and untraditional edge. I will revisit Kate Bush for a few seconds because she is an artist I have limitless passion for. Mermaid Song has shades of Bush’s early work and draws me to my favourite album ever. While no one can replace or match Kate Bush; there are so many young artists who take influence from her and continue her legacy. I say this like Bush has retired – never know if she is planning new work! – but she is not as prolific as she was. Kat Kenna’s voice has definite hints of Bush at her most entrancing and bewitching.
Naturally, Kenna is compelled by other musicians but I sense a distinct connection to Kate Bush. Take a thing like Mermaid Song – and its strange love story and ocean setting – and it seems like a lost cut from The Dreaming, perhaps. It is pleasing seeing new artists inspired by Bush’s sound and adapting it into their own music. Kenna is individual and original but you can definitely hear little flecks of Bush running through Mermaid Song. Many of us – moving on, now – do not associate contemporary, popular music with Russia. That is not a dig at the country but there are not many nations outside Britain and America that have a strong mainstream culture. Many countries consistent a steady diet of British/American music but there are local artists that make it into the consciousness. Nations like Israel, Australia and Canada are strong; Sweden, Iceland and France, too. For Russia, there are some great artists around but we do not hear about the nation in general. I am intrigued by what Russian music promises and the type of music we might be missing out on. What I love about the country is the fact there are cultures and people who inspire wonderful music and imaginative sounds. I have mentioned how Kenna spent her early years around magic-believing people and tribes. Growing up in such an ‘unusual’ environment must be eye-opening for a promising musician. I can imagine Russia’s mix of clans, types and people compelled a young Kenna and has directed the music she is writing at the moment. Listening to Mermaid Song and there is that strangeness and odd beauty that can trace its roots back to Russia. There is an element of Kate Bush but a distinct nod to Russia. I am interested learning more about Russian music and what is available there. I have discovered a few great Classical artists there; some brilliant Folk artists and Pop singers. How deep this diversity goes I am not sure but it is clear there is a lot more to Russia than meets the eye.
Kat Kenna bagged radio and presenting jobs when she moved to Moscow and has been in London since 2009. In the eight years she has been here; Kenna has been plotting and recording music – taking the first steps in her career. I mentioned how Kenna has had her music played on soundtracks and on the big screen – she has gained notoriety and exposure in Russia. Mermaid Song is the first taste of Kenna’s upcoming E.P. I have provided a teaser of the song – it does not get its official release until next week – but take my word for it when I say it is a fantastic song that announces an original talent. I would love to see her perform a lot more around the country and take her music to new people. There are so many people who would love to see her up-close and, I for one, think she has enormous potential. Mermaid Song is a wonderful insight into a young woman who strays away from the mainstream. Let’s hope there is a lot more coming from Kat Kenna as she has a voice and songwriting style that is rare to find. It only takes a few hits of her debut single to realise the confidence and talent she has inside her. I have been listening to it a few times and discover something new every time I dive in. Make sure you acquaint yourself with a fantastic songwriter and a track that takes you somewhere magnificent. Mermaid Song is beautiful, brilliant and memorable. I must leave things now and return to the song because, God help me, it is…
SUCH an addictive thing.
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