This isn’t a proper review, in part because even after 7 or 8 listens I am still trying to wrap my head around the beautiful, paradoxical wonder of this album. Rather, it’s more of a “you really need to check out Land Animal from Bent Knee—you can listen to it streaming here” sort of post.
The band, which was formed in 2009, is based in New England and consists of six members. From the band’s site:
Lead singer and keyboardist Courtney Swain’s soaring vocals are instantly arresting. Guitarist Ben Levin is one of the most dynamic and versatile guitarists around, shifting between the raging and raucous to the sublime and meditative. Bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth combine into an enthralling rhythm section that’s equal parts powerhouse and nuance. Violinist Chris Baum’s kinetic violin work provides drama, grace and intrigue. World-class producer and live sound designer Vince Welch weaves it all together with a captivating, expert touch.
My first Bent Knee song was the whip-lash, jaw-dropping cover of Johnny Cash’s dark nugget “You Are My Sunshine,” which demonstrates well the band’s rather unique mixture of technical dexterity, cathartic bombast, cerebral coolness, and inverted, addictive catchiness. (Did I mention “paradoxical” earlier? Yep.) This opening paragraph from the band’s bio page might sound a bit hyperbolic—but if it is, it isn’t by much:
Bent Knee is unlike any band you’ve ever heard. Its borderless sound combines myriad influences from across the rock, pop, minimalist, and avant-garde spectrums into a seamless, thrilling whole. Its new album Land Animal—Bent Knee’s first for InsideOutMusic/Sony—takes its sound to a new level. It offers a suite of songs full of addictive hooks, lush melodies and enthralling twists and turns that capture the reality of life in the 21st Century—a reality of people and nations in the midst of tumultuous change. It also communicates a ray of hope and desire for listeners to embrace the fact that they’re not alone in their struggles.
In some songs, especially in more serene passages or sections that bear some faint resemblance to orthodox pop music, I hear Kate Bush and even Sia (“Hole” is perfect example of the latter). In the more “out there” moments, when Swain unleashes her blistering, gorgeous wail, I hear snatches of Fleming & John (a criminally-ignored husband and wife duo) and early Björk (oddly enough, when she loses her mind at times on the 1990 jazz album “Gling Gló”). But these reference points are merely suggestive, as the whole of Bent Knee is, again, hard to describe, a mixture of orchestral-ish passages, raw but tight guitar, polyrhythmic craziness, classically-imbued moments of open tenderness, angst-packed explosions, and much more. (The bass lines, for example, are worth the price of entry.)
The songs are certainly songs—there is no noodling or needless wandering here—but they are also soundscapes. A perfect case in point is the title song. For those looking for progressive rock that is both a bit unsettling and strangely comforting, Bent Knee is worthy of your time: