The music of Bent Knee comes from another dimension. At least, that is the truth I choose to believe because otherwise their new album Shiny Eyed Babies, to be officially released this fall, would completely shatter my perception of reality. There’s no way human beings can possibly create music that is so strangely absorbing and absolutely incomprehensible at the same time. It’s like that time you watched Un Chien Andalou stoned at your film-major friend’s dorm room–you were pretty sure you were watching a masterpiece but simultaneously sickened by the fact that someone was brilliantly twisted enough to write, direct and edit such a work of grotesque genius.
So yes, Bent Knee kinda scares me, but that’s half the fun of listening to their intricate, avant-garde compositions, music that could easily be mistaken for pretentious had the band not emphasized the ‘rock’ half of ‘art rock’ more than they actually do. “Way Too Long,” for example, is one of the most horrifyingly heavy songs I’ve heard from a non-metal band all year, with its creeping drum beat, spine-chilling plucks from Chris Baum’s violin, and mind-melting vocal distortions courtesy of production man Vince Welch. However, lead vocalist Courtney Swain doesn’t need much distortion to terrify you. Her voice is indeed a wonder, a wonder in the sense that you find yourself wondering, ‘how is this sound coming from a real live person?’ It’s a voice that could have credulously either escaped from the bowels of hell or been banished from the throne of heaven due to unruliness, but whatever its origin, it will leave you, if not speechless, at least much impressed.
Each member has moments to shine on this album, especially drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth on his Neil Peart-like fill assault near the end of song “Dry,” but no one member overtakes any other and each contributes to the music more than to their own personal performances. Shiny Eyed Babies is a dense work of art that could foreseeably turn off the fainter of heart, and at times even I felt overwhelmed by the laborious attention each tune demanded from the listener. But, overall, the experience was rewarding rather than wearisome, with particular highlights including the hypnotic “Skin” and epic “In God We Trust.”
If their live performance is even one-tenth as insane as their studio work, then this Boston-based band’s stop at San Francisco’s Brick & Mortar, supporting Sit Kitty Sit, is one you won’t want to miss. I’ll be there, and desperately hope the band doesn’t take what’s left of my sanity.
Sit Kitty Sit, Bent Knee, Strange Hotel
Brick and Mortar Music Hall
July 3, 2014