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"A Bent Knee album is like a box of chocolates..."... sorry, I'll not go all 'Forest Gump' there, although, like Hanks’ Oscar winning performance as the eponymous character of said movie, there is always more to Bent Knee’s music than is first apparent. Layers, unexpected twists and turns, and latent depths are what they’re all about, just like old Gumpy. Perhaps a more apt analogy is that a new Bent Knee album feels like opening a box of treasure. Surprises reside within, for sure, but you know those surprises are going to shine, delight, provoke and excite in so many disparately engaging ways.

So, their new one, ‘You Know What They Mean’, sees the band continue to progress with their perennial compositional brilliance into new ways of expressing themselves. Simple ways, allegedly, if the band’s producer, sound designer and synthesizer player Vince Welch is to be believed: “The song forms 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.” Well, I’ll just say that you shouldn’t be misled by such a claim, as this is Bent Knee’s version of “simple”. The layers are still there. The quirky essence of the band remains. And many twists and turns are also thrown into the mix.

In many places, the album’s certainly heavier and darker in places. Quirkier, too. Plus it grooves along like a right old groovy bastard, at times. And that's just the opening track, ‘Bone Rage’, which follows an intro piece, ‘Lansing’, which is what sounds like a recording from a gig plagued by technical difficulties, where some sort of discordant hum is declared to be too loud, and the band inform a supposed audience (crowd noise can be heard): "The truth is that we're all human. We've got our good nights and our bad nights." Genuine? Fabricated? Some sort of latent discourse buried within this ambiguous intro? Maybe, maybe not, but when it segues into ‘Bone Rage’ it’s so fucking jarringly affective. It gave me shivers this one. In a good way.

The album continues to diversify in all kinds of musically iconoclastic, euphoric ways... be it mediated through melancholy, despair, anguish, elation or optimism. Yet some of the songs have, very generally speaking, more simple structures this time around, with tracks working off central riffs or core, simple ideas. However, the layers are still there, so what's evidently started life as just a riff or rhythm or refrain in many of the songs has been embellished and adorned with the Bent Knee magic in all kinds of stylistically diverse and engaging ways. Songs run the gamut from mellow euphony ('Bird Song') to abrasive, chaotic cacophony (the gloriously discordant 'lovemenot'). But it's all wonderfully blissful, be it gentle moods or dissonance deployed as art. And this is art. Make no mistake about that. And then there are the more straightforward tracks like 'Cradle of Rock'… a geological nod to Dani Filth & co.?... obviously not, but wouldn’t that be brilliant!!

Courtney Swain’s vocals are once again a highlight of the album, and are never more beautiful than on 'Golden Hour', where her singing is so utterly sublime. Her voice is great throughout the entire album, but this one hits hard, emotionally. Another interesting thing of note is the rhythmic variance on the album - not just compositionally, but in terms of actual sounds. A Roland SPD-SX Sampling Pad has apparently been used on a number of the tracks, which drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth started using when he broke his ankle last year, but evidently grew to like the sounds he created and saw the creative potential of incorporating this with Bent Knee’s music. And it’s been fused to perfection as part of the band’s overall sound design.

One refreshing thing here is that each song has its own identity. Much like their labelmates Pain of Salvation, you can't listen to a single track, or even a handful of songs, and presume to know exactly what Bent Knee are all about. For what they're actually all about is a band who transcend any sense of genre. They're an invigoratingly dynamic, ever-growing, constantly evolving, genuinely progressive bunch of talented folk who are capable of conjuring sonic magic in every one of their songs - each one disparate from the next, yet bound by that unsuppressed and unfaltering Bent Knee charm. ‘You Know What They Mean’ is no exception. It’s admirable that a band can continue to progress yet still retain their own sonic identity. They've continued to push all kinds of parameters here, yet it still sounds like a Bent Knee album. And it’s another brilliant one. Fucking brilliant, in fact.
Inside Out
Review by Mark Holmes
11th October 2019
1) Lansing; 2) Bone Rage
3) Give Us the Gold
4) Hold Me In
5) Egg Replacer
6) Cradle of Rocks
7) Lovell; 8) lovemenot
9) Bird Song
10) Catch Light
11) Garbage Shark
12) Golden Hour
13) It Happens
"They're an invigoratingly dynamic, ever-growing, constantly evolving, genuinely progressive bunch of talented folk who are capable of conjuring sonic magic in every one of their songs - each one disparate from the next, yet bound by that unsuppressed and unfaltering Bent Knee charm."