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Phratry Week: LKN/Knife the Symphony

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.