Boston's quintet Bent Knee constructed Shiny Eyed Babies (2014)
around a simple
strategy: let vocalist Courtney Swain make sense of her cohorts'
chaotic instrumental jamming
(violinist Chris Baum, guitarist Ben Levin, bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth).
The result is a protracted oxymoron, as the
vocalist needs to continuously change singing style, or to blatantly ignore
the instrumental background.
Their technique of estrangement begins by crafting an introduction which is a
harmless slightly-bluesy piano ballad Shiny Eyed Babies before forcing
the vocalist to morph into a
hoarse pub witch in Way Too Long.
That segues into the melismatic soul cry Dry, steadily climbing towards
an anthemic refrain despite an atonal violin.
Progression is also the essence of
In God We Trust from its ethereal beginning to its
bolero-like crescendo via theatrical recitation.
A gentle folk elegy, I'm Still Here, soars in King Crimson-ian majesty.
The viceversa is not always as successful: Dead Horse, that mimics the
emphatic aria of a Broadway musical, fades away in a rather uneventful manner.
On the other hand, the suspenseful melodrama Battle Creek boasts
one of the most vehement arrangements decaying into an ending that
is pure gospel-ian pathos with minimal instrumentation.
By the same token, Skin transforms its hysterical verve
into a subdued piano finale via industrial metronomy.
The piano lullaby Untitled, inspired by classical lieder, opens another
In fact at that very intersection between folk-rock and neoclassical lied Sunshine reaches the album's peak of psychological power.
The last two songs (two of the longest) are mixed blessings.
Being Human is a Freudian trip up and down the scales of neurosis and euphoria, and the best thing about the exhausting lyrical ballad Toothsmile is the way it implodes.
Not everything works but certainly every second of this music is a challenge
to preconceived ideas of what a song should be like.
Many other instruments surface here and there:
viola, berimbau, trumpet, flute, cello, trombone and saxophone.
And, still, nothing could be further from accuracy than calling this
"chamber rock". This is raw, bold, emotional rock music.
Say So (Cuneiform, 2016)
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