Ten Kens’ new video for “Gently Used” is a work of masterful, nuanced menace. Its images have a subtle power to discomfit. Their ambiguity is flustering. We watch, but witness what? Is that the meiosis of zygotes? Or maybe they’re abdomens mirrored in the lotus Kama Sutra. When we see the hint of a hand, is its grip babelicious or barbaric? Regardless, it’s clear the images offer us biology — specifically, the science of humans — which should by all means be familiar. But it is not. Somehow, instead, it’s abject, just as Ten Kens intend.
There’s no doubt that the primary concern of “Gently Used” is a relationship, and at that relationship’s core is something physical. But the question, I think, is whether that physicality is bringing the bodies closer together or tearing those bodies apart. (I think Ian Curtis once wrote a song riffing on a similar theme.) Even this track’s title offers malice — one’s imagination need not be too terribly vast to encompass a few of the ways in which a person might be “gently used.”
The song itself, shifting between its diffident coos and its occasional booming chant, presents two of the possible personalities in this kind of dramatic relationship. And the video seems intent to offer an almost literal representation of the euphemistic “beast with two backs.” The “two-ness” is pervasive. One considers how this breed of physicality is unique: it requires two autonomous bodies in order to exist, but in its act of generation, it’s perfectly possible that one half is utter victim while the other plays the “beast’s” entirety.
So: no, “Gently Used” is not exactly gentle. But it is a work of precision and finesse. Subject matter this complex deserves nothing less. The scene is exquisitely rendered, regardless of whether you decide it’s one of rapture or one of emotions being rent apart. Ten Kens pose a savage dilemma: Is any emotion sacred? Or is it all just biology after all?
“Gently Used” is premiered here, thanks to their own Ten Kens Records, who will be releasing Namesake on May 21.
• Ten Kens: http://www.tenkens.com