Bent Knee: Say So album review

Brilliant uneasy listening from Boston sextet Bent Knee

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Specialising in subversive, sleight-of-hand rhythms and abrupt mood swings, the third album by the Boston-based collective challenges the casual listener to either keep up or keep away. As with their self-titled 2011 debut and 2014’s Shiny Eyed Babies it’s a bold, uncompromising strategy that’s done them no harm at all in their slow-but-sure progress, as they seem poised to move beyond the cultish circles of admiration which they’ve inhabited so far.

With Say So, the earlier rough edges of their developing sound have been streamlined somewhat, but the band retain
a precociously insatiable appetite to change the game, often within the course of a particular song. You’re never entirely sure which time-signature or thumping wallop of extreme dynamics you’ll encounter in the next verse.

In less expert hands, such a cat-and-mouse game with the listener might become tiresome or downright irritating. However, like Everything Everything, with whom Bent Knee share a similarly eclectic methodology, tearing up the rock song rulebook is something they do so well, and with such relish, you begin to understand that this approach is no affectation but rather more of a calling for them.

For them, tearing up the rock song rulebook is a calling.

Long-term fans will recognise a number of call-backs to their earlier work during Say So, and celebrate the connections. The ecstatic deluge of tiered vocalising that erupts and scatters during The Things We Love reiterates something of the beatific revelry found in 2014’s In God We Trust. The staccato clarion call announcing Leak Water’s arrival summons 2011’s Little Specks Of Calcium.

For those new to Bent Knee, although it might at first appear daunting, it’s hard not to get caught up and swept along by their utter conviction and confident handling of otherwise difficult structures and subject matter. Eve, a darkly perverse creation myth, quickly lurches into the maw of grinding, chasmic chords which in turn are spat out into whirling orchestral flurries and atavistic growls. Within all the controlled mayhem, flashes of the pensive cinematics utilised by Scott Walker manifest like a ghost at the feast.

Although very much a team effort, the astonishing range and emotive swoop of Courtney Swain’s lead vocals represent a thrilling, dominant force throughout. When channeled into glorious choral swirls, her voice is electrifying in a way that’s both a testament to Bent Knee’s thoughtful, considered arrangements and the simple, brutally cathartic rush that comes from tipping your head back and yelling at the stars above. If you love original, inventive music that defies easy categorisation, you simply cannot ignore Bent Knee.