Review: Land Animal - Bent Knee
Only a year after their previous release, Say So, Boston progressive /art rock sextet Bent Knee is back with another ethereal, diverse and and mesmerizing journey on their fourth record, Land Animal. This is their first release on their new label, InsideOutMusic / Sony Music, and it showcases the band honing everything that makes them a unique and daring force in the music world.
A description of Bent Knee's sound is one that is difficult to pinpoint. They seamlessly culminate elements of art rock, prog, indie rock, experimental rock and pop into beautiful and daring compositions. This record manages to be extremely diverse while still sounding cohesive; having their hands in multiple sounds and textures without spreading themselves thin whatsoever. Songs such as "Belly Side Up" and "Time Deer" showcase a much more upbeat, groovy, pop-infused and somewhat playful side of Bent Knee. Tracks "Insides In" and the title track "Land Animal" illustrate a much darker, intense, and abrasive tone with a broad range of soft and powerful dynamics.
One of my most notable takeaways from this record is Bent Knee's masterful and delicate approach to composition. They are able to take extremely complex and layered songs and present them in a way that showcases a strong pop sensibility and memorable songwriting. While some artists in the progressive music world come across as having their songwriting serve to showcase musical complexities, Bent Knee's complexities exist to serve the songwriting. Sharp hooks and beautiful melodies sit at the forefront of these complex and adventurous songs, such as the emotional vocal melodies of Courtney Swain in the title track, and powerful hooks found in the memorable choruses of "Holy Ghost" and "Belly Side Up". Their keen sense of dynamics, harmony, and groove is at its strongest throughout this record. Its crossover appeal and brilliant composition makes it a work that can be easily be enjoyed by any music fan yet appeals to fans of progressive or avant-garde music. Bent Knee's quirks and intricacies come off as endearing, rather than alienating.
"Our primary objective on Land Animal - and every other record we’ve made, for that matter - was to write a great collection of songs. Nothing more, nothing less. Every creative decision we make is to move the song forward and tell its story in the best way we know how." - Chris Baum
While there is not a hint of filler throughout Land Animal, "Hole" was one of the stand out tracks I found on this record. The odd, frenetic rhythms of drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth, bassist Jessica Kion and guitarist Ben Levin in conjunction with the playful keyboard melodies of Courtney Swain immediately caught my attention. The track's complex rhythmic instrumentation, catchy refrains, beautiful vocal melodies, and climactic key changes illustrated Bent Knee's ability to effortlessly marry the worlds of avant-garde and pop music. The album's title track and lead single, "Land Animal" proved to remain a favorite of mine upon hearing the rest of the record. The track impressively shifts from an frantic, ominous, quirky progressive rock song to a dreamy, orchestral, melancholy yet hopeful piece. Violinist Chris Baum's gorgeous reprisal of the Courtney's vocal melodies in the latter half of this song is one of my favorite moments on the record, showing how carefully and cleverly Bent Knee treats the album's various musical themes and how they intelligently place them in different musical environments without seeming foreign.
With Land Animal, Bent Knee further proves that they are an uncompromising, imaginative, and bold entity who have truly mastered their craft. The band's seamless ability to make such massive, complex, and diverse compositions sound so pleasing, catchy, and alluring is a wildly impressive feat. Land Animal stands out as one of the most incredible and vibrantly unique records I have listened to this year and I don't see myself putting it down any time soon.
Favorite Tracks: Hole, Land Animal, Belly Side Up
Review by Michael DiGiulio