31 Knots - Worried Well (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

31 Knots

31 Knots: Worried Well

Worried Well (2008)

Polyvinyl


4.5
Joe Haege is a carnival barker at a progressive post-rock cabaret, and he probably doesn't care whether or not you're in the audience. Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure he'd love an adoring audience, but 31 Knots is one of those bands who've never made music for anyone but themselves, and their work ha...

Joe Haege is a carnival barker at a progressive post-rock cabaret, and he probably doesn't care whether or not you're in the audience. Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure he'd love an adoring audience, but 31 Knots is one of those bands who've never made music for anyone but themselves, and their work has always come off as unapproachable to the average ear. And none of it would be possible without his key players, Jay Winebrenner on bass and Jay Pellici on drums. Together, it's a weirdo stage show for the indie kids, minus the camp.

And yet, on Worried Well, the band takes their music paradoxically further towards the experimental and the familiar. "The Breaks" adds a stiff funk groove to the drums and bass while the main melody is carried by staccato keys reminiscent of a neon `80s R&B group. Full of cuts to droning samples, faltering distortion on the drums, loud fade-ins on feedback, the song feels almost like sound collage. But as the sum is an easily recognizable melody, it's a track that could surprise you by blasting through the competition at your local college radio station.

31 Knots works hard within the realm of their four main instruments -- guitar, keys, drums, and bass -- to create something atmospheric and enormous. Take the blazing piano arpeggios played at double-speed-to-stop-time drums intro of "Strange Kicks" before Haege spews out "I am made of weapons grade / mass compassion and Pearly Gates." The song plays off of two instruments and voice, but could fill a coliseum.

The songs bounce through dynamics, going from a short whisper to full-on bombast and pomp in miliseconds, letting a noodling bass loop be overpowered by a screeching guitar placed 20 bars higher in the mix. Or the schizophrenic attack that is "Worried But Not Well," whose verse has the guitars strumming as fast as they can over spastic drum loops, only to break into a poppy, angular chorus. The album breaks conventional though for what the band is capable of, taking dabble in baroque piano pop for "Compass Commands," featuring call-and-response vocals.

And before you can even think twice, "Upping the Mandate" takes a slow-paced synth-pop disco twist to form one of the most conventional song forms the band has ever taken on.

The whole album is woven together via a series of samples -- maybe a few seconds of a hip-hop break, or a droning muffled bell over strings that gets pitched up and down forming a new melody out of one note -- that shape the album into a complete form of art rather than a mass of songs. But that doesn't mean you won't be flipping around to catch your favorite tracks.

You see, 31 Knots dosen't blend or meld genres. They play in the invisible genre. You can't see it, taste it, or smell it, but you're fairly sure it's there. And after this album, you'll either be ready to try and push through dimensional barriers to find it, or ready to wash your hands of this mess altogether.