1. “Capernaum” – The Collection. The Collection always blows me away with the intricate complexity of their arrangements. It sounds as if David Wimbish has found an entire orchestra to pour his heart into here; whatever’s left over is spilled out in his deeply mournful and affected vocals. The tension between chipper music and deep sadness in the lyrics is beautiful, calling up sentiments similar to Page France and Sufjan Stevens (but way more orchestral–I know, what could be more arranged than Sufjan’s work? Just listen.)
2. “I Know You Know” – Andrew Judah. Judah is one of the most inventive arrangers I’ve come across in a long time. His songs genuinely defy notions of genre.
3. “The Dusty Air I Breathe” – Clockwork Kids. Confident performances and strong production kick this riff-driven indie-rock track up a notch. The powerful vocals here are particularly surprising.
4. “Two Ships” – Field Mouse. Every time I hear palm muting and pad synths, I think Fleetwood Mac. That comparison isn’t too far off in this mystic, dark indie-pop track.
5. “Kaleidocycle II” – Cloud Seeding. Powerful, beautiful instrumental indie-rock that doesn’t turn into post-rock or electro jams is a rare animal, so get out your safari cameras now.
6. “Banks” – Red Swingline. This complex acoustic picking and arrangement by a project that generally does progressive metal basically becomes a rolling, beautiful post-rock tune with some jazzy moments. Pretty cool.
7. “Room and Pillar” – Knife the Symphony. Cincinnati’s finest, most furious punk band is at it again, serving up brutal, dissonant punk that makes me marvel at how three people make this much noise.
8. “Song 32” – The Austerity Program. I don’t need a reader survey to know the readers here aren’t usually metalheads. BUT IF YOU ARE, The Austerity Program is pretty friggin’ impressive with the riffs here.
Knife the Symphony is my favorite Phratry band (well, except maybe newcomers State Song, which you’ll hear about tomorrow). Their furious, frantic, atypical take on punk rock is pretty much what keeps me from feeling that punk is dead. Their choice of LKN as a split partner (on a split titled Split) makes perfect sense, as her angular take on music fits in with Knife the Symphony’s oeuvre.
LKN is Lauren Kathryn Newman, a Pacific Northwest DIY everything with an extensive discography. My first introduction to her comes via “Set Intro,” which establishes her as a jazzy, atmospherically-minded songwriter with a rock bent. It’s pretty cool. “Roll the Bones” ups the ante, as it’s a rattle-trap indie-rock tune with a barely-submerged punk energy and attitude.
After a mathy, pattern-heavy turn in “July 5, 2008” (this woman can do everything), she finally synthesizes all her parts into the brutal, fascinating “Sign My Cast.” Everything that LKN had kept controlled in the previous three tunes comes exploding out: her calm voice becomes a raging, atonal wail; and the dissonant punk guitar that had been simmering beneath the surface becomes malicious. It is the sound of a woman unhinged. We need more of this in the punk rock world.
“Cha Cha” is another rhythmic, patterned indie-rocker with rumbling punk undertones. And then, just because LKN wants to mess with you, “You Are My Best Friend” is an emotional piano and voice piece. Expectations = subverted. Did I mention that she played all the instruments on every track?
After that whirlwind of a side, it’s time for Knife the Symphony’s three contributions. Their thirteen minutes start off with fifty seconds of squalling distortion before dropping into one of the tightest sections of rock/punk they’ve ever set to tape. It’s songs like “Squatting Warrior” that make it clear why people of lesser aspirations invented pop-punk; the song is so tightly written that it sounds like some sort of pop song. KTS isn’t bashing for the sake of bashing: These guys are talented instrumentally and have developed an incredible chemistry. The guitar, bass and drums lock together perfectly to lay a frantic, perfect foundation for the male yelling.
KTS is tighter in general on this split, eschewing dissonant slabs for a direct, punchy sound. The bass and guitar on “On Your Knees” might as well be one instrument, as it’s impossible to tell them apart; the separated drumming seems engineered to point out the incredible guitar interactions. The band does let things space out on “Flat Time,” however, dedicating the bulk of the 7-minute run time to a section that drops to almost silence. It’s pretty much a ’80s emotional hardcore revival.
I’ll say it again: KTS is tight on this release. These are the most arresting pieces the band has yet produced, because the members have distilled their rage into meaningful, memorable bits while still pushing outward to new sounds. Ah, screw it: KTS is still my favorite Phratry band.
I was at an Oklahoma City Thunder game yesterday, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” came on over the PA in the same loop as fragments of rap songs, “Jump Around” by House of Pain and various songs mostly known as Jock Jams. While the Ramones have suffered far worse indignities in terms of where they’ve been played, it still made me sad. The Ramones were the sound of rebellion at their time. Parents smashed their kids’ Ramones vinyls. There’s nothing rebellious about the Oklahoma City Thunder (sorry, KD). I swung a little bit more toward the “Punk is dead” argument that I hate (because that argument is usually a cop-out).
But then I heard Knife the Symphony’s Dead Tongues, and I feel much better about the state of rebellious music. Knife the Symphony plays loud, dissonant, unconventional rock music that has the tempos of punk, but the chords and artistic aesthetic of post-hardcore. Except in the hypnotic “Sold Out (In an Empty Room),” the vocalist doesn’t bother with melody; he just screams when he feels like it. It’s hardly rhythmic, and the lyrics are almost entirely unintelligible. If I played this for almost anyone who likes the radio, they would hate it.
And I’m sure that pleases Knife the Symphony. Their songs ooze punk/DIY attitude, from the album art (a commissioned painting, it appears) to the complicated inner casing and artwork to the note that their version of “Fallout” by Hornet is only available on the vinyl of this album. The fact that there is a vinyl of this album is awesome. The fact that Hornet, as far as I can tell, is a local band from Kalamazoo, Michigan, makes their choice of cover even more awesome. To top it all off, their myspace tag line is “you’re going to need earplugs.” This is punk rock.
Knife the Symphony‘s Dead Tongues features great songs, like the blistering “Without Parallels” and the dissonant “At the Races.” And the songs are the draw, because without great songs, all this punk attitude is pointless. Knife the Symphony is talented, and that’s not to be overlooked in all this. But it’s their aesthetic that so pleases me. Dead Tongues is definitely one of the most important things I’ve heard in a long time. The punk aesthetic is alive, and Knife the Symphony knows it. Keep at it.
Band Name: Knife the Symphony
Album Name: Knife the Symphony EP
Best Element: Intensity
Genre: Artsy Punk Rock
Label Name: Phratry Records
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Sometimes I attempt to understand the thought process of certain artists. My thinking usually runs along the lines of “what the hell were they thinking when they did this?” For example, what were the Red Hot Chili Peppers thinking when they released a double album (Stadium Arcadium helped make up my sleep debt), or why does this dude have to scream when he could make his point in a more calming way. Regardless of all this, questions mainly arise when bands try to do something new by releasing a concept album. Don’t get me wrong, I love concept albums, but they only seem to move to one of two extremes: either they fall flat and are disregarded or they become legendary.
After reading about Knife the Symphony and listening to their self-titled debut EP I’m going to go ahead and assume that this was meant to be a concept album (mostly in their philosophy). They claim to “cut away the mundane and consumed” and bring back the “lost art of playing music” with “unity between bands, between styles and between scenes.” With all this talk of knifing “corporate control” and the “mainstream” I feel like I should be hearing the sounds of prison inmates fighting with their makeshift toothbrush shivs; instead all I hear is artsy punk rock. Knife the Symphony starts their release with “Common Elements,” a simple guitar driven track with some fairly repetitive lyrics. “Solemn Solon,” despite its misleading name, proves that KTS can be more interesting. While Albers was yelling about egos and faith, I had a flashback to June of ‘44 (not the year). At least KTS is wielding some hefty lyrics about everything from personal problems to global conflicts. “Summer’s Decay” uses its driving rhythm to its advantage, but lags when it comes to vocals. As in a few of the other tracks, the vocals seem sprawled and disconnected. While it fits the style, it is more of a distraction than anything. Beyond that, KTS has an intense and energetic feel throughout the EP.
Knife the Symphony is the first band I have come across in some time that truly fits its description. This EP will leave you spent, but after a few listens KTS grows on you. I am no big fan of the scream/yell of lyrics, but this release has taught me that intensity has to be in every aspect of the music before it can be effective. This is one strength that Knife the Symphony has pinned down, making them a force to be reckoned with.