Bent Knee – Land Animal

Reviewers often use the word “depth” to describe releases they enjoy but the spatial metaphor is all wrong; a good album is not a single-vector experience, not (necessarily) a dive into unfathomable lows. Instead, great albums are often characterized by music which encompasses the listener. This allows such albums to suck their subject in, surrounding them with a vibe, a concept, a sound, an idea. In Bent Knee‘s case it’s kinda-sorta all of the above, distilled through a personal perspective on life rather than a more solid theme or concept. Land Animal continues their tradition of tight grooves, impressive and dominating vocal performances, shrill violins, and hectic guitars all fed through an indie rock formula charged with just enough experimentation to keep things interesting. Like the other high points of their by now prolific career, Land Animal is an exercise in controlled chaos, in an all-encompassing vibe that simply screams Bent Knee.

Take “Hole” for example. The track trapezes through sweet bridges, an off-kilter melody for its verses, and “heavier” choruses tinged with punching distortion which immediately swings back into the off-kilter main melody. The listener is accosted on all fronts: the bass is fully realized and does unspeakable things with the synths while the drums cheer them both along. The guitars can lilt and croon along the bridges, supported by singer Courtney Swain’s more clear-headed, uplifting mode, before immediately diving into the “thicker” segments of the track. It’s a whirlwind and a half but the most important thing is that it feels immediately and earnestly of Bent Knee’s style, stamped with their unique aura or flavor.

We’d do well to delay for a moment on Swain’s performance on the album. While the band are, and have always been, a complete set, an ensemble which magnifies the sum of its part, Swain also holds especial sway (oof, that consonance!)  in her position behind the keys and the microphone both. On Land Animal, her presence has been amplified not by a wider range or more far-flung diversity but rather by a “trick” of positioning. Where Shiny Eyed Babies (for example) was more neatly carved up in Swain’s performance into discrete parts (like the more punk rock passages of “In God We Trust” versus the more forlorn role in “Battle Creek”) here her modes mix together. This admixture mostly results from the choice of track structure and how different tracks (which require different performances from Swain, often in the same track) are placed together to create a harder to pars and separate whole.

A perfect example of this is the duo of “Holy Ghost” and “Insides In”. The first track opens with Swain’s voice contain her signature husk, an alluring mischief in her timbre which hints towards the bodily, mental, and sexual melange that is the subject matter of the track. From this, still in the grips of the first track, her voice shifts into more aggressive and grandiose realms as we near the end of the track. As “Holy Ghost” runs down it refuses to end, instead shifting into “Insides In”. Regardless of Swain’s performance, this is one of the best moments on the album as the violin unwinds the track before only to re-spool the threads into the next one.

“Insides In” is a quieter track though no less incisive than its predecessor for it. Between the ominous piano, the ever-returning violin line (which has a downright disturbing role to play in the track), and the overall dream-y vibe of the track, Swain metamorphoses into her more somber mode evinced in the past on tracks like the aforementioned “Battle Creek”. However, here, this mode is amplified via the album’s structure, hitting all the deeper for the progression from “Holy Ghost”. This “enhanced creep” is a beautiful setup for the track’s cataclysmic ending, daftly positioning us to receive the full blow of its cavernous conclusion.

As befits such a “multi-vector” album, this review has not touched upon even half of what it should have done. For the sake of brevity (and for keeping this review clear and to the point and, thus, effective) we’ll simply point to the above should you need to extrapolate the rest of the album from scratch. The basic formula (which is, of course, anything but “basic”) relies on the incredible musicianship of all parts of Bent Knee collaborating on the structurally clever album which is Land Animal. Thus, it is more than a worthy contender for Shiny Eyed Babies’ spot as Bent Knee’s masterpiece and perhaps even outstrips that brilliant album. In its intricate positioning of all parts, and especially Swain’s unique voice, in not only a track-internal relationship but rather an overreaching, album-wide plan, Land Animal manages to squeeze all parts of Bent Knee into optimal expression. That’s a really cold and calculating way to end a review for an album that’s basically a punch to the gut so we’ll end instead with this: go pre-order this album right now if you know what’s good for you.

Land Animal releases on June 23rd via InsideOut Music and, honestly, no review could really do its intricacies justice. Listen to the track above, pre-order and check it out as soon as it drops. You won’t regret it.

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.