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The Knells - 2013 - "The Knells"

(58:45, New Amsterdam Records)


1.  Airlift 6:17
2.  Thread 3:21
3.  Fray 4:56
4.  Dying in Waves 4:20
5.  Distance 7:13
6.  Syncromesh 6:20
7.  Seethe 6:51
8.  Dissolve 6:20
9.  Spiral Proem 3:06
10. Spiral Knells 10:01


Andrew McKenna Lee – guitars; percussion
Michael McCurdy – drums 
Jospeh Higgins – basses 
Joshua Modney – violin 
Olivia de Prato – violin 
Mariel Roberts – cello 
Victor Lowrie – viola 
Paul Orbell – guitars 
Nina Berman – vocals 
Katya Powder – vocals 
Amanda Gregory – vocals 

Prolusion. The US project THE KNELLS is the brainchild of composer and instrumentalist Andrew McKenna Lee, described as "a rock guitarist who has performed alongside legends Billy Idol and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, a singer/songwriter, a serious concert music composer and... a classical guitar virtuoso" by the label New Amderdam Records which released The Knells’ self-titled album in November 2013.

Analysis. Music that pretty much defies any generic classifications and is fairly difficult to pigeonhole into any well known genre is what we're provided on this CD released under the artist moniker The Knells. If I have understood matters correctly the song cycle recorded here was given the name first, and then it was subsequently chosen to be used as the artist name as well. Not that this is important, but it is a starting point to venture out from. The dominating presence throughout this production are the vocals. Floating and drifting in a manner that is borderline dreamladen and transfixing, the voices of the three vocalists drift, ebb and surge in fairly intricate patterns. Where the lead vocals start and end is often hard to tell, and the number of vocal harmonies present is rather staggering. Always drifting and flowing, smoothly moving from a layered vocal harmony delivery to a standalone lead vocal one and, unless my hearing deceives me, with quite a few nonverbal atmospheric vocal constructions coming and going as well. While soft, smooth and sensual, the vocals are also oriented towards an operatic delivery, which does give them a majestic and powerful presence, even if the vocal approach as such is one that seemingly shies away from a dramatic delivery as much as possible. Supporting these magnificent vocals we have, on one hand, delicate rock instruments. Or rather, delicate guitar details aplenty, more often than not light in tone, with an emphasis on brittle echoing sounds, carefully reverberating note and gently wandering motifs. Darker toned riffs are carefully employed for a dramatic and more majestic effect, and also traditional guitar soloing is kept at a minimum, with drawn out atmospheric guitar solo details with more of a Frippian touch to them more often used and then to good effect. Just as common as more traditional arrangements are fragmented, softly chaotic constructions in this and other departments, with bass and drums catering for a more firm foundation and given a more driven role in the proceedings, the bass also with a more important role as the darker sounding contrast. That there's a fair few sequences sporting nervous and textured guitar details with more of a post rock orientation is also a part of the whole in this case. The final ingredients used on this production, and used extensively throughout as well, are strings: violins, viola and cello, adding distinct symphonic oriented, textured motifs to the proceedings. In harmony and disharmony with vocals or guitars, ebbing and flowing and surging with delicate details, occasional dampened plucked string effects or in majestic, multi-layered arrangements. When vocals, guitars and string instruments all combine the overall effect may be grandiose in the most intense parts, but there's also a fair few instances of brittle, delicate sequences where all performers deliver fragile, delicate details to a multi-layered arrangement. While light toned and delicate details are the order of the day fairly often, this isn't a soft album or an easy to listen to production however. The majestic passages aren’t given enough space for them to end up as the key element one recalls after listening through this CD. Instead, at least as far as I'm concerned, the delicate notes and fragments so extensively used throughout have more of an unnerving effect on me. The mood created, despite the light toned tendencies and smooth overall arrangements, ends up as subtly unnerving experience in a Twin Peaks sort of way. Dreamladen music, but with an underlying nerve that adds a more ominous, brooding presence to this superficially light toned and elegant production.

Conclusion. The Knells debut album comes across as a solid excursion into a corner of the progressive rock universe where few others have travelled. Musically related to both psychedelic progressive rock and chamber rock, with a liberal amount of details with an origin in classical music and a few that may have an origin in jazz as well, combined with textured instrumental details of the kind fans of post rock will recognize and occasional segments closer to ambient music in overall feel. These elements and a few more then combine into a smooth, dreamladen and elegant whole, yet with an undefinable unnerving feeling to them. A production well worth investigating if you enjoy adventurous music, and in particular if you have a soft spot for high quality, classically trained female lead vocalists and vocal harmonies.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: October 2, 2014
The Rating Room

Related Links:

The Knells
New Amsterdam Records


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