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Kenna, ‘Make Sure They See My Face’ (Star Trak/ Interscope)

You can understand why Kenna wants people to see his face: New Sacred Cow, this Ethiopian-born synth-hop savant’s inventive 2003 debut, won him buckets of buzz but didn’t make him the household name his record label and producer (the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo) were hoping for. (Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller Blink for an illuminating account of the album’s tortured history.)

Looking for the pop validation that eluded him last time, Kenna hired Hugo’s partner, Pharrell Williams, to helm two tracks on this follow up to New Sacred Cow. Williams’ Midas touch has lost some of its sure-shot gleam of late, but on “Loose Wires,” while Kenna bemoans “all the hits that I’ve been missing,” the producer hooks up a radio-ready beat that sounds like a choice outtake from Kelis’ “Milkshake” sessions. “Say Goodbye to Love,” Williams’ other contribution, has a jittery live-band feel, like Chic fronted by Dave Gahan.

The rest of the album, produced by Hugo, proffers similarly clever juxtapositions: In “Sun Red Sky Blue,” Kenna works a rock-guy yowl over percolating drum-machine funk, while “Out of Control” cribs both the Ramones’ lyrics and the Rapture’s disco-punk groove. That left-field sonic alchemy is Kenna’s creative strength, and he hasn’t sacrificed it here in the name of mainstream accessibility. He’s realized that a little studio bling is just one more trick in his bag.

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Tags: Albums