Energetic. It’s probably one of the most amorphous concepts we use when speaking about music (and, let’s be honest, we use plenty of those). It is used to denote a sense of immediacy, urgency, and power in music, usually describing music that’s very direct, loud, and often fast. However, this isn’t always the case; energetic music can also be very abstract and atmospheric, droning passages that grab you by the throat with their hauntings, arresting ethereal passages that leave you raw, or acoustic tracks that twist their fingers around your heart and squeeze. At the end of the day, “energetic” music is simply music that feels drenched in a certain kind of puissance, in the ability to reach past the notes and affect something in the listener.
Bent Knee have always been likely recipients of the adjective, their music often graced by that feeling of energy, of punch, of a communication with the listener. On their upcoming release, You Know What They Mean, it seems as if the energy levels have been kicked up a notch. This energy draws on both the compact rock vibes that have always pumped in the band’s heart but also on more abstract pieces which are no less effective. The end result is the band’s most intricate and hard to digest album yet, perhaps hinted at by the chaotic cover art, channeling the more experimental approach of Shiny Eyed Babies and the indie rock alacrity of Land Animal/Say So to create a new, chimerical, and powerful sound for the band.
The two opening tracks (skipping over the introductory track) put that latter, immediate, and direct approach on direct display. “Bone Rage” is undoubtedly one of the greatest bangers of the year, putting the vocal capabilities of Courtney Swain in the center of its high-octane, kick-you-in-the-face emotionality. Backing her up with gang vocals is the rest of the band, adding even more aggression to the track which channels its name well. This feeds directly into “Give Us the Gold”, another high-energy piece that keeps hitting that sweet spot between punk, art, and indie rock that has made the band famous and beloved. The result is an album which kicks the door wide open on approach, opening with some of the band’s most powerful tracks to date.
But then you get “Hold Me In”. While it once again heavily relies on Swain, as all Bent Knee tracks should since she’s one of the most talented vocalists in operation today, it offers something quite different to the two previous tracks. From the churning drum line which opens it, through the psychedelic inflections that wreathe the vocals in reverb, to the more ambient and overwhelming passages in its middle, “Hold Me In” is much weirder than the two previous tracks. And yet, the energy remains: in the heights which the vocals take, in the prominent bass, in the clever hi-hat useage, and in the towering, haunting synths lives an irresistible momentum, a power to reach out and grab the listener by the throat.
Even when the album reaches deeper into these weird spaces, like on the irresistible couplet of “Lovell” and “lovemenot”, that energy remains. On the latter, the band sound as dispersed and out-there as they ever have, the guitars unravelling into monolithic feedback and fuzz as airy choirs puncture them in the background. If we played you the middle of the track, strings and ethereal vocals stretched across an infinity of feedback, you’d swear this was some funeral doom band playing. From here the chaos rolls into “Bird Song”, a woundingly moving and “small” song that taps into the more intimate and personal side of Bent Knee. And yet, the energy is still there; instead of getting bogged down in these more experimental, acoustic, and atmospheric passages, You Know What They Mean is like a katamri damacy, an endless ball of forward movement that just seems to pick up everything in its wake and grow larger as it snowballs (quite literally) out of control.
In these days, when much of mainstream music (whether metal, rock or pop) seems infatuated with the stripped back, the distant, the cold, the marketable, and the ironically disengaged, Bent Knee are a veritable whirlwind of honesty and daring. You Know What They Mean is, somehow, both their largest and smallest album, channeling the bursts of grandiose, emotional candor, and sheer musicality that has always made the band tick into one of the most energetic releases of their career and, indeed, their genre. It is, simply put, a joy to listen to, to scream to, to cry to, and to dance to. Get on it.
Bent Knee’s You Know What They Mean releases on October 11th. You can pre-order it right here.