BENT KNEE, You Know What They Mean (InsideOut, 2019)
PERSONNEL: Ben Levin (guitar, vocals); Chris Baum (violin); Courtney Swain (vocals, keyboards); Jessica Kion (bass, vocals); Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth (drums); Vince Welch (synth, guitar, sound design)
- Bone Rage
- Give Us the Gold
- Hold Me In
- Egg Replacer
- Cradle of Rocks
- Bird Song
- Catch Light
- Garbage Shark
- Golden Hour
- It Happens
Those looking for an exercise in futility should take a few moments and attempt to define the music of Bent Knee. The Boston band’s sound — once described as “avant-pop,” which came close at the time — continues to evolve with each subsequent album, to the point where they sound almost nothing like they did when they emerged a mere three-quarters of a decade ago. Bent Knee is about many things in music, but “formula” ain’t one of them!
You Know What They Mean might be their most appropriately titled album yet. While radio programmers and other genre definers struggle to put Bent Knee’s sound into a neat little box, the band’s fans (whose numbers continue to grow by the minute) have chucked that particular yoke aside, and are eagerly absorbing the latest sounds to influence this Berklee-trained sextet, labels be damned. What this band makes is incredible music, and that is all that matters. Fans accept this, and everyone continues to move forward. The band doesn’t have to explain its intention.
Bent Knee has been touring with progressive metal bands like Haken and Leprous, as well as more fusion-oriented acts like Thank You Scientist. All of these bands share a couple of things in common: namely, heavy-duty playing ability and top-flight vocalizing. It is clear the influence of these bands is rubbing off on Bent Knee, who were already top-flight at both. This becomes abundantly clear from the instant “Bone Rage” kicks in, as the band tears through a metal-like composition made sweeter and yet somehow more sinister by the sound of Courtney Swain’s singing voice, both angelic and wicked.
When I saw them perform in Newport, Kentucky earlier this year, bassist Jessica Kion told me the band’s label InsideOut suggested they create more … “accessible” music that might be a little easier for new fans to ingest. Did they? Well … that may be a question of personal taste. “Catch Light” captures a groove unlike few others in the Bent Knee catalog. But by the time it kicks in, accessibility seems to be furthest thing from the band’s mind. Kicking ass became the top priority. And in this, they succeeded.
Ben Levin’s guitar licks continue to gain weight with every tune, while drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth’s kit sounds like it’s on the verge of exploding under his powerful limbs. Kion’s bass is raw and aggressive, running almost contrary to the sweetness of her singing. Surprisingly (at times), Chris Baum’s violin cuts through the mix nicely, taking the music to a different plane. Meanwhile, Vince Welch’s production and sound design keep everything in perfect balance.
Bent Knee continues to grow and develop with each new record, and those records are taken to the next level when the music is performed on stage. I’m less than a month from seeing them again — once again with Thank You Scientist, as well as The Tea Club — and I can only imagine how much tougher this album’s songs will sound.
It seems almost senseless to try to translate Bent Knee’s music into the form of a review. After all, the explanation lies neatly in the album’s title. That’s all you really need.
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