Bent Knee - Land Animal

Year of Release: 2017
Label: InsideOut Music
Catalog Number: IOMCD 479
Format: CD
Total Time: 50:15:00

Describing a band like Bent Knee is a challenge. Not since Radiohead's OK Computer has a group turned pop on its head in such a unique and compelling way. This is music for listeners who have no patience with the mundane and the predictable. Bent Knee's style has garnered many labels, including art rock and avant pop, but what they are is an amalgamation of so many influences that they've become something entirely new.

You would think that a band that jumped from pop to metal to avant garde to ambient and even to cabaret (often within a single song) would be a hopeless hodgepodge. Instead, Bent Knee creates a work that is uniquely ... well ... Bent Knee, a band whose sound is immediately recognizable and will doubtless soon become one to which others are compared.

The melodies on Land Animal live over a bed of stuttering rhythms, patterns that move and weave and juxtapose, often passing seamlessly through varying time signatures. Drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth and bassist Jessica Kion work together like a single instrument, Kion's bass lines locked to Wallace-Ailsworth's kick drum in an almost supernatural connection. Guitarist Ben Levin grooves over this rhythmic dynamo with orchestral lines, metal chunk, and carefully sprinkled back melodies, while violinist Chris Baum defines the symphonic arrangements with plucked patterns and shrieking cat gut. All the while, Vince Welch -- who is also the band's talented producer and mixer -- provides ethereal synth washes and accent notes.

And then there's keyboardist and singer Courtney Swain, described by many as a force of nature. Swain's vocals range from delicate whispers to goosebump-inducing explosions of emotion and ferocity. As she sings, she expertly works her keyboard, providing each song's chordal grounding, supplemented by soaring arpeggios, pounding rhythms, and subtle nuances.

Bent Knee's trademark is their ability to slip seamlessly, and often instantly, from tranquil passages to stirring climaxes of sound. Usually, these swells are exultant, but they can also be nightmarish bursts. For example, the track "Insides In" starts in a melancholy, jazzy vein that would be at home on a Norah Jones album, but soon evolves into a soundtrack from a horror movie.

The closest thing to a straight pop song is "Belly Side Up," a sunshiny piece along the lines of the previous album's "Hands Up." But even this bouncy track is underscored with hidden complexities that reveal themselves after multiple listens. And if you dig into the lyrics, you discover that the song is not so sunshiny, after all. Most of Bent Knee's songs flow from the dark sides of their psyches.

"The Well" takes the band's cabaret camp to its limit, a song fitted with so many twists and turns that it sounds lifted from a manic Broadway musical. The listener can't help but smile as each musical surprise unfolds. On the other end of the spectrum, "Boxes" closes the album with an atmospheric wash of drifting synth chords, topped with Swain's vulnerable croon and ends as the music fades to the repeating drum pattern.

This reviewer has watched Bent Knee's career for the last two years, and over that time they've grown at an impressive rate. Starting with two self-produced albums in 2011 and 2014, they caught the attention of indie prog label Cuneiform Records, who, in 2016, released their third album, Say So. Now, just a year later, they're on the major label Inside Out Music, which is distributed in the U.S. by Sony. They've toured the U.S. extensively and even had a successful European tour. Over the course of this hard work, Bent Knee has refined their vision, becoming one of the most important art-rock bands in the country.

Terror Bird (4:09) / Hole (3:21) / Holy Ghost (5:33) / Insides In (6:29) / These Hands (5:36) / Land Animal (5:13) / Time Deer (4:19) / Belly Side Up (4:15) / The Well (5:30) / Boxes (5:45)

Courtney Swain - lead vocals, keyboards
Ben Levin - guitar, backing vocals
Chris Baum - violin, backing vocals
Jessica Kion - bass, backing vocals
Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth - drums
Vince Welch - synths, sound design

Bent Knee (2011)
Shiny-Eyed Babies (2014)
Say So (2016)
Land Animal (2017)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: June 24th 2017
Reviewer: Clayton Walnum
Artist website:
Hits: 4913
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]