BENT KNEE - Land Animal

Bent Knee - Land Animal

10 songs
50:31 minutes
***** ****


After having been a genre for nearly half a century, progressive rock has nowadays a hard time to stay innovative. Too many bands try to sound like their idols and end up rather regressive than the opposite. Once in a while, you may come across one of those rare prog bands that are hard to categorise, and that surprise again and again with every album. I am thinking here of Kayo Dot and Cheer Accident, but lately also Bent Knee, a sextet from Boston whose fourth album Bent Knee comes just one year after their predecessor. The latter was released on the renowned Cuneiform label, and the new one on the equally respected InsideOut Music.

What is striking at first is that Land Animal shows Bent Knee from their most pop side so far. Some people have been possibly a little disappointed by that development, but throughout the fifty-minute-long album, the two women and four men show that they can enchant just as well, and maybe even more, when they are combining their unusual approach with catchier melodies. The opener Terror Bird is a nice entry into a record, but not its strongest moment, thus showing a band that is able to shine with more than just one smashing song. Major points of interest are of course guitarist Ben Levin who has built up quite some reputation with Bent Knee and his solo output over the last decade, but mostly vocalist Courtney Swain who is currently the best singer alive. Period! Her quirky, soaring vocals never miss a note, and her performance always comes with an atmosphere of hope and a certain happiness, which is rather unusual for the prog genre. The second track Hole is a more playful tune that combines Caribbean styled rhythms with some rather fierce rock parts, and once again there are these heavenly vocals that all of a sudden turn into a maniacal scream. On Holy Ghost, the recipe is repeated, although with a tad more commercialism, but in a very good way. The vocals get a lot of room, and deservedly so, as they have tremendously improved over the years. This is definitely one of the album’s highlights. The six and a half minute long Insides In starts really slowly and then ends in an incredibly dramatic prog outburst. Other highlights are the title track Land Animal which comes with a more orchestral touch thanks to violinist Chris Baum, and with some mid-Seventies King Crimson guitar parts. My favourite track though is Belly Side Up, a definitely very pop song, but the strange structure and the untoppable vocals make this the best song I have heard this year, and maybe the best one in a very long time. In a world that would be fairer to good music, this would become the summer hit of the year. The only weaker track is the soporific Boxes which ends the album in a not too exciting way. And that’s also why this otherwise quite impeccable album "only" gets nine instead of ten points.

So what kind of music are Bent Knee playing? Is it progressive rock? Or should we should concede that they play their very own brand of avant pop! Next to the also sublime Knifeworld, Bent Knee are currently the best band on their label. And maybe they will even reach bigger audiences, considering that music critics from the most different outlets – Wall Street Journal to NPR – have said good things about these very nice seeming ladies and gentlemen. Anyone into innovative music who doesn’t check out Land Animal should be condemned to listen to Nickelback for the rest of the year!

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