They came out of nowhere. They were the unexpected guest. They got into the party because they were friends of a friend. Now I never want them to leave.
I’m madly in love with the music of Bent Knee.
In my world, the discovery of bands is a never-ending series of happy accidents. This group may be one of the happiest accidents of my musical life. I first heard about this Boston-based group from music journalist Anil Prasad, who is clearly smitten with them. And given Anil’s strong opinions about music, that’s saying something! I sent him a note, half-joking that he really seemed over the moon about this avant-pop group. His reply? “Dude, just buy it. All of it.” I’m not big on blind allegiance, but in Anil’s case, I’m known to make exceptions.
I took a trip over to YouTube to see if I could catch a glimpse of Bent Knee. It was an easy find. The first clip was a tune called “Being Human.” It took about 20 seconds to be blown away by this indefinable band, starting with the powerful voice of lead singer/keyboardist Courtney Swain.
I’ve never heard a band like this, or music like this. It came from all directions at once. Pop, prog, avant-garde, classical … It was a violent storm of sound. A volatile stew of styles. And it worked! Big time! Bent Knee’s sound is both touching and torrent, and it takes no prisoners. THIS is the kind of music that needs to be all over the radio. But I fear programmers would have no idea what to do with it.
I was floored to see a violin (played by Chris Baum) in the mix. But it fits, providing a nice foil for the guitar of Ben Levin. Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth’s drumming reminds me of John Bonham, offering not so much a beat as he does rhythmic blunt-force trauma. It grabs you and never lets go as it propels the music forward.
Another key element of the band’s sound comes from bassist/vocalist Jessica Kion, who harmonizes beautifully with Swain, giving the music an ethereal feel. The two singers knocked me for a loop on a tune called “Battle Creek.”
The band met and formed at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. This becomes obvious quickly, because each member is a master at his or her instrument. Best of all, they can play this intricate music live, without the aid of pre-recorded tracks, auto-tune, or any other aids. What you see is what you get, and you get quite a bit.
I wasted no time heading to Bandcamp and ordering a copy of Shiny-Eyed Babies, Bent Knee’s 2014 release. I was blown away by the band’s power and ability, which sounded twice as good on CD as it did on mp3. But my cynical side wondered if the band would be able to maintain the momentum they created with this album. I needn’t have worried. In 2016 they released Say So, which is every bit the equal of its predecessor. Any doubt I had was erased quickly by the first single, called “Leak Water.”
This is a band on the rise. I can only believe Bent Knee’s best work lies ahead of them. My biggest worry is someone from outside will try to interfere with the band’s chemistry. I pray to the music gods that never happens. This band is just fine as is, thank you very much.
I gave up on the Grammy awards a long time ago. If they ever want to get me back, they will recognize Bent Knee and bands like them, who genuinely represent what is outstanding in music. But I’m not gonna hold my breath.
My job prevented me from catching this band live, when they were in town supporting the Dillinger Escape Plan. I hope they make another run through as the featured act. I will be in the front row, cheering like crazy. Even my 14-year-old daughter is on board, and parents know how difficult it is to get our children to enjoy our music. If that doesn’t speak to the abilities of this band, I don’t know what does.
Bent Knee is the TRUTH. They are what is right about music. I offer you the same advice Anil Prasad gave me:
Just buy it. ALL of it.