Bent Knee


2019 not only brings the highly anticipated release of their fifth studio album, You Know What They Mean, but, having formed at Berklee College of Music in 2009, also marks a decade of consistently dizzying musical innovation from the remarkable Boston-based art-rock outfit, BENT KNEE. However, in years to come, when the band’s six restlessly creative members contemplate their career and achievements, for reasons experienced in pursuit of their art it could be that 2018 will be viewed as a particularly pivotal and significant year. It was during a truly character-building 2018 that the randomness of fate presented BENT KNEE with two seismic events to greatly challenge their individual and collective emotional fortitude, consequently bringing their interpersonal dynamics into sharper focus than at any time in their history. “Mind boggling... the grandest and subtlest ideas are on the table.” – NPR

On June 23rd, 2018, following a typically rapturously received performance, when exiting the stage of San Francisco’s Cafe Du Nord in dimmed lighting, drummer GAVIN WALLACE-AILSWORTH fell awkwardly, badly breaking his right ankle in an accident that was to render him out of action for four extremely painful months. That this occurred in the sticksman’s hometown was miraculously fortuitous, enabling him post-surgery to convalesce in the family home. Distraught but resolutely undaunted, BENT KNEE completed the tour with drummer Adam Cichocki of tour openers Gatherers heroically deputizing, having learned the full set of complex, genre-melding rock music in just two days.

Of this drama, the band’s violinist CHRIS BAUM offers an interesting take. Having been captivated by the Free Solo documentary about US rock climber Alex Honnold’s rope-less ascent of Yosemite National Park’s 7,573 ft. El Capitan – but especially how a camera team was present to record every moment – concerning his bandmate’s enforced absence from BENT KNEE activity, he says:

I’m interested in the moral quandary that the presence of cameras would dramatically change the scenario, no matter what. How much responsibility would you take in filming, perhaps, the climber’s demise, when being so involved in this insane quest of his? It might be a stretch as an analogy, but I feel having Gavin taken away from us during the creation of the new album was like adding cameras to watch someone climbing that cliff without ropes. We felt so much more exposed; it was weird, as we felt like a totally different band, the five of us.

Upon reflection, Wallace-Ailsworth is philosophical about his accident, particularly in that it inadvertently introduced him to the Roland SPD-SX Sampling Pad, initially suggested to assist in compensating for his damaged right leg, but now used to fine effect on a few tracks on You Know What They Mean. Clouds, silver linings etc.

“Equal parts ingenuity and deliciousness.” The Wall Street Journal

With their drummer recovered and back onboard, a second traumatic event was to befall BENT KNEE on Saturday November 24th. On their second full US tour of 2018 (opening for Haken and Leprous), between shows in Salt Lake City and Denver the band’s tour van flipped over in treacherous icy conditions. Incredibly, besides a few scrapes and bruises no injuries were sustained, but the six musicians were understandably left badly shaken. Needless to say, in a manner mirroring the fearless sonic exploration that has made BENT KNEE’s name around the world, the band dusted themselves off and forged ahead to fulfill the remaining tour dates.

Of these two incidents and the effect they’ve had on the band, guitar maestro BEN LEVIN says:

We have a very dynamic relationship, so with the tribulations of Gavin breaking his leg and our van incident, in terms of how we dealt with them there were no negatives. When the van flipped over there was no selfishness; it was just, ‘Let’s solve this!’ At the same time we had also gone through what I can only call a difficult interpersonal patch, simply because we realized just how very important Gavin is to all of us. In some ways it was like starting over from scratch, as while he was recovering we had to work out how we’d function as a band again, having lost someone.

Taking a pragmatic perspective, BENT KNEE’s dynamic singer-keyboard player COURTNEY SWAIN adds:

With both accidents we were forced to move onto the next thing. For better or worse, I didn’t have much time to dwell on either event, and I feel that we were really lucky that the bad things that have happened to us felt like they could have been much worse.

Evidently not a band to dwell too long on any disruptive misfortunes arising on life’s unpredictable path, BENT KNEE knuckled down to the continued creation of You Know What They Mean, for this opus adopting an entirely new approach with a more direct sonic vision in mind. Swain says that the group was searching for a “big shift in sound,” which - as they began work on it - was what they hoped for with their superb 2017 release, Land Animal but, in retrospect, feeling they did not achieve.

Producer, sound designer and synthesizer player VINCE WELCH explains:

The song forms [on the new album] are greatly simplified from anything we’ve done before. It’s more riff-driven, more song-oriented, with focus on such as the vocal melody. We’ve created the songs in a more simple way, at least more than any album we’ve made before, and it’s certainly more groove-oriented.

Levin concurs, saying:

Yes, the riffs themselves are perfectly crafted and weren’t conceived as demos in someone’s bedroom, already sounding good in a live capacity when first played. They’re such huge riffs that we were immediately able to build on them, whereas previously it was like solving a puzzle in trying to turn a demo into a Bent Knee song.

“Viciously talented... teemed with color and creativity.” – The Boston Globe

As Levin states, huge is the perfect adjective to apply to the substantial bedrocks on which You Know What They Mean’s tracks have been constructed. Take Bone Rage, for example, boasting a chugging metallic riff providing a platform upon which the inimitable Swain swoops and soars with abandon, her bandmates rocking with muscle behind her. Seemingly blessed with perfect pitch, Swain’s phenomenal, dramatic voice is a potent force in a band bursting with virtuosic talent, which in combination with a rare chemistry delivers contemporary rock music sounding like nothing that has ever come before it.

With its propulsive, insistent riff, and instantly memorable melody, Cradle of Rocks is a compact ‘heavy pop’ song, while Welch’s aforementioned groove-oriented approach is beautifully illustrated by such as the slinky Catch Light, with its choppy, downright funky guitar riff propelling the tune along apace. While all prime examples of the ‘new’ BENT KNEE sound, it must be noted that no compromise has been made concerning the emotional intensity and sonic thrills that have to date made this gifted outfit sound – and feel - utterly unique.

Moreover, there can be no doubt that as a consequence of 2018’s two challenging events the six already tight-knit members of BENT KNEE are closer than ever before. Subsequently, however subconsciously, it was obvious that these amplified interpersonal dynamics would enter the creative equation when recording You Know What They Mean. While writing began at Big Nice Studio in Lincoln, Rhode Island, back in February 2018, recording sessions commenced in earnest in December - one week after the almost calamitous Haken/Leprous tour wrapped up. For the first time, a BENT KNEE album had been conceived as a unit, as opposed to individually bringing ideas to the table and examining ways to cohesively piece them together.

Everything that’s been generated for the album has been from the six us going through improvisational and compositional experiments in the studio, explains Baum. It all started together. We haven’t allowed ourselves to bring in any outside musicians either, so it’s the first record we’ve made with just the six of us.

Even through their and his own difficulties, Wallace-Ailsworth is ever the band’s joker, initially suggesting the (quickly and summarily dismissed) album title of ‘Spicy Clams for Great Lovers’ (lifted from a 1940’s Chinese book) but more seriously, as a Talking Heads devotee, succinctly compares the directness of You Know What They Mean to the four previous BENT KNEE albums by saying, If you like, this is our ‘Speaking in Tongues’ after our ‘Remain in Light.’

“It’s very rare that an artist or band comes along that changes your perspective on music and art. Bent Knee have done just that.” – Substream Magazine

The latest in a succession of ground-breaking albums commencing in 2011 with the self-released, eponymous debut, You Know What They Mean follows the majestic, emotional colossi of Shiny Eyed Babies (2014, independent), Say So (2016, Cuneiform) and Land Animal - issued, like the new meisterwerk, on InsideOut Music/Sony. With their refreshed, yet equally powerful, riff-fuelled sound, You Know They Mean sees BENT KNEE on the cusp of something massive. A rapidly burgeoning global fan-base has lapped up BENT KNEE’s mind-bending, forward-thinking and sophisticated sonic amalgam of rock, pop, avant-garde, electronica, jazz, and even R’n’B influences, distilled into a unique and deeply soulful art-form that, while remaining exquisitely melodic, defies categorization, rocks with incredible intensity – particularly in the live arena – and routinely moves listeners to tears.

And lyrically, while remaining intelligent, literate and poetic, the band has entered the new album from a different angle. As an altruistic outfit in tune with the times and possessed of a magnanimous worldview, having explored the human condition on previous releases, while You Know What They Mean still delivers a widescreen look at the world, overall there is a greater emphasis on attempting to lighten any weight of it their listeners may unwittingly bear. Of this approach bassist JESSICA KION says:

I feel that what I’ve personally come to it with, what is best for me, is not to be reminded of the state of our country or the world, but rather to be reminded of the things that I love. Of course, when Trump was elected I thought, ‘How do you make art about this?’ but I think it’s much more important to get people feeling good again.

Feeling good is unquestionably the effect that You Know What They Mean will have on BENT KNEE’s swelling legion of fans, but it is equally certain to attract considerably more listeners to the overwhelming beauty and emotional wallop of their unique music and fascinating band chemistry.

“A celebration of creative freedom and unrestricted musicianship.” – Rebel Nois

However, regardless of the considerable commercial potential to verify BENT KNEE’s ecstatic critical acclaim, the six artists remain acutely aware that the complexity of their sound and the bands with whom they have toured – including the aforementioned, Thank You Scientist, and the Dillinger Escape Plan - may present the misconception to the uninitiated that they can only appeal to fans of progrock or heavy metal. As a band possessed of huge euphoric pop hooks on every album, and collectively influenced by acts as wildly diverse as Radiohead, Cardiacs, Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Fiona Apple, Nine Inch Nails, Steve Vai and Beyoncé, nothing could be further from the truth.

When interviewed around the release of Land Animal Kion said, I think our music is powerful, and capable of uniting people with different perspectives. With dust fully settled on their extraordinary 2018, epitomizing the adage Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, this is how the toughened 2019 model of BENT KNEE hopes more and more open-minded music lovers will arrive at, and dig deep into, a sound that music journalists - ever grasping for new superlatives - have tagged as mind-boggling, breathtaking, eloquent, ingenious, beguiling and exhilarating. All perfectly valid, of course, yet no single complimentary adjective or combination thereof can truly capture the singular brilliance and envelope-pushing artistic vision of BENT KNEE, a state-of-the art rock band for anyone, and everyone.

-Dave Morrison
InfoDiscographyNews

Latest Release

Bent Knee
You Know What They Mean
10/11/2019
Limited Edition CD digipak, Gatefold LP plus CD, and on all digital platforms

Members

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

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