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The best kept secret in music


"Review of "View of an Orbiting Man""

TENKI: View Of An Orbiting Man
As “Love Sick,” the opening song on Tenki’s sophomore album, slowly unfolds — with dusty guitars carrying singer Jamie Toal’s achy wail, before gradually piling layer upon layer of instrumentation into a mound of pristine scuzz-pop — it becomes apparent that this is hardly just another Albini-biting rock band from Chicago. For View Of An Orbiting Man, the bristling sextet has enlisted a veritable cornucopia of sonic ingredients, featuring trumpet, clarinet, cornet and keyboards in addition to the traditional guitars, bass and drums — which allows the band to spread sugary sweet harmonies over irresistible pop hooks, as well as dive headfirst into the delivery of searing aural assaults. The mid-tempo bounce of the title track quickly falls into the depths of a dark instrumental haze, with Toal in its midst, lyrically shedding personal demons from his back. “You,” on the other hand, slowly churns a simple arpeggio into a rollicking chorus, and features guitar and synth solos that alone make spinning the album worthwhile.
- Louis Miller (CMJ) - CMJ

"Review of "View of an Orbiting Man""

Wow. In a year when my favorite unheralded Chicago band [Turnerjoy] sadly decides to call it a day, another rising Chicago band takes their place in my heart. The two bands, while sounding entirely different, do share a similar sense of artistic ignorance... an ignorance to all other influential music that's roaming around, corrupting the minds of earnest musicians worldwide. Tenki ride their own wave, and it's a wave of intense emotion, theatrical arrangements, epic scope, dark lyrics, and a couple of horn players thrown in for good measure. The damn thing's even a bit of a concept album to boot -- the album's loose theme of despair and resolution is written through frontman J. Toal's eyes as an "orbiting man" -- a look at his life and recent divorce as though he were a satellite -- miles away, all-seeing, a calm vessel in the dark to broadcast his deepest emotions. The arrangements are breathtaking - keyboardist/trumpet player Dexter Gold is a pro koto player by day, for which he spent much time in Japan to learn -- and perhaps it's these classically trained sensibilities that help translate Tenki's music from the normal to the otherworldly. Yes, it's a heavy-handed record, but still more affecting and ultimately more redeeming than your average Radiohead record, mostly because Tenki's music is grounded by fantastic hooks and memorable choruses, as opposed to the dreary on-and-on's of your Cures and Radioheads. The album packs a punch, but the fun part is figuring out where the punch is gonna come from - sometimes it's a guitar, sometimes it's a keyboard, sometimes a trumpet... and sometimes from the acrid lyrics of Toal himself. But just as the orbiting man finds a sort of hazy, Polyphonic Spree-esque redemption towards the end of the record, so do we as listeners, and we realize that Toal isn't living these demons as much as he is excising them on this record. When you're done with a listen, you feel like you've run a mile - you're emotionally and sonically exhausted. And that's how I've always liked my music. This is the best of the 5 albums from the Future Appletree camp, and it's easily one of the grandest albums of our day. Long live Future Appletree, and long live Tenki. - Excellent Online

"Review and Preview of Tenki"

Chicago's Tenki formed in 1999 when various members of the local music community converged to create a new, expansive Indie Pop sound with direct melodies, textural guitar interweaving and punctuating trumpet riffs. After a 2000 EP (Red Glow) and a full-length in 2002 (Red Baby), not to mention unavoidable life-shifting irritations (broken guitar hands, an unstable rhythm section slot, marriages, divorces), Tenki landed on stable ground with the release of this year's stunningly skewed, deeply entrancing epic, View of an Orbiting Man. Using the narrative lyrical device of a man looking back at his life via satellite, the slanted perspective of J. Toal matches the sonic restlessness of Tenki's unique musical approach. Tenki masks influences beneath their own distinct personality, sharing the same atmosphere as bands like Built to Spill, The Flaming Lips and Spoon, while managing to not sound a bit like any one of them. While lathered in seductive, memorable melodies, there is a spontaneous, experimental quality to the band's elastic song structures, which almost renders the Pop descriptor moot. But the subtle melodic power of Orbiting Man gives it as much lasting impact as anyone in the Indie Pop game today.

The band seems to chase their muse wherever it might lead them when it comes to songwriting, unpredictably extending parts whenever the mood strikes. This creates a dramatic dynamic on tracks like "All of the Gravity, None of the Weight," a sparkling, minor-key dirge that sounds like Failure on a Can binge, and the twinkling "Croupier," which rocks with the sunny majesty of Indie Pop greats like Beulah before falling blissfully into a psychedelic wah-wah feast. The driving, downstroke "Lucky" sounds like a less derivative Strokes jamming with the Psychedelic Furs, with an irresistible chorus and equally unshakable trumpet hook, while the title track shows Tenki's songwriting power at its best. They even get a little rootsy on the bubbling "Adrift, Imperfectly," the only cut on the record that takes the usually endearing meandering a little too far, shuffling its feet too long and never really going anywhere. But usually, Tenki hits its mark. Besides the trumpet and occasional keyboard accouterment, the band is very much a Guitar Rock band, which makes their orchestral methodology all the more impressive. View of an Orbiting Man isn't the kind of album that will knock you off your feet after the first listen. But spin it a few more times and, like Big Star's underrated Sister Lovers album, it will haunt your dreams. (Mike Breen) - Cincinnati City Beat

"Review of "View of an Orbiting Man""

In the annals of Chicago rock history, there is much to be proud of (The Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, Tortoise and Chicago) and much to be ashamed of (Wickerman, Joan of Arc, the Ides of March and Chicago). It's been a dark dozen years or so in the Windy City, but recently a clutch of young bands, led by major-label signees OK GO and Kill Hannah, have lit up the skyline again. Ambitious sextet Tenki is among those currently making the revitalized circuit with their inimitable combination of psychedelic guitar extrapolations, heartfelt balladeering and raw-boned rock muscle -- a template similar to the one Billy Corgan used to become the continental king of rock a little over a decade ago.
The group's sophomore effort, View of an Orbiting Man, reformats Journey's big rock formula for the alt-rock set; there are genuinely tender moments lurking within the album's maze of anthemic guitar crunch, glistening keyboards and power punch drumming. Tenki are nowhere near as mawkish as Steve Perry and the cats, but as the straw spitting lurch of "Adrift, Imperfectly" dissolves into the grandiose space-rock of "Catherine the Great", the depth of their demonstrative character becomes abundantly apparent -- this is a band with something to say, and they've crafted a powerful, if occasionally maladroit, vessel with which to deliver their message.

Tenki frontman J. Total may well be this country's answer to Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) and Kevin Shields -- a bleeding romantic whose grasp of emotional semantics is rivaled only by his ear for gorgeously textured blasts of tumultuous noise-pop. Like the aforementioned tortured souls, Total is careful never to reveal too much of himself; "Lucky" buries sublime lyrical couplets ("sit on back and watch me do it all again") in an avalanche of pink-noise guitar flutter and regal brass, and the title track swirls around in a miasma of extraterrestrial Bowie-isms, Total ruefully claiming to be a "spectacle of (my) own spectacle". Sometimes he seems to be at peace with his broken heart ("Catherine the Great"), while at other intervals he's nowhere near it ("You"), but in either case Total seems unwilling to offer full disclosure to his faithful throng just yet.

View of an Orbiting Man isn't quite as fully realized as you'd hope; the band occasionally gets caught up in the immensity of it all and mistakes size and spectacle for substance. Still, it's hard to fault their ambition, and the surfeit of ideas they toss off in these forty-five minutes is enough to leave you satisfied and lusting after what's yet to come. Let's just hope Total's wounded heart can survive the journey. - Splendidezine.com


We're Not Talking About The Universe (1&2) (summer 2006)
View of an Orbiting Man (2003)
Red Baby (2002)
Red Glow (2000)
Streaming tracks available at www.tenkimusic.com and www.myspace.com/hellotenki


Feeling a bit camera shy


Imagine. Bottle of Pabst on the bar next to a full ashtray and her number glowing on your unanswered cell phone. TENKI on stage looking like your leather wallet with only 3 bucks inside - enough for one more. Feels good. Fiery trumpets, crooning vocals, haunting guitars, addictive beats, jangly keyboards - all pull together in a driving, dreamy, hooky soundscape - a unique sound that inspired CMJ to call them "hardly just another Albini-biting rock band from Chicago" and consequently chart their 3rd album "View of an Orbiting Man" at #51 within 2003.

They've been compared to Spoon, Flaming Lips and Calexico and have based themselves in Chicago since 1999 eeking out their scuzz pop on 4 albums, mini tours, and many shows in hometown clubs Schubas, Empty Bottle, Subterranean... For three years, they have been with Future Appletree Records based in Davenport, Iowa.

TENKI can mean "weather" in Japanese. The music of TENKI is influenced by the weather of their lives: love, divorce, frustrations, exultations -- ramifications of living modern lives in urban Chicago and following their muse despite their better judgment. They like to marry cynicism with optimism hoping it'll all work out - life that is (they've already written off any fleeting notion of big-time rock fame). TENKI's members bring a whole bag of influences to the table. Singer Jamie Toal was a former member of '90s indie band Tripmaster Monkey. Tumpet/keybordist Jeff Wichmann studied traditional and contemporary Japanese music in Japan for 3 years. Drummer Sean Burke has toured with a bag pipe and drum core band. Miscellaneous influences include the experimentations of Eno, the sweeping scores of Morriconi, clever Beatles hooks, Old Style beer, the raw energy the Stones, the textured moods of New Order, the epiphanies of Orwell, rhythms of the Talking Heads, and the ridiculousness of Fog Hat.

TENKI's four albums have matured but still retain their essential pop hooks laid over dynamically crafted musical narratives. If anything, their style has grown slightly darker, quirkier, and more patient. Their 2003 album, "View of an Orbiting Man" was a tool to look at life's curveballs from the outside. Their latest "We're Not Talking About the Universe, Are We" (2006) features similar vignettes of life, but less literal than "View", ultimately leaving the listener pondering the title's question, or is it a statement?