Bent Knee is a Boston-based band that defies most simple musical classifications – which I suppose makes them prog, right? I can imagine five different websites selling this album as five different genres based on five different sets of 30 second song samples. Maybe it’s something in the vein of Florence and the Machine? Maybe it’s more of an indie alt-rock sound? Could it be throwback rock? Maybe it’s a quirkier take on classic style prog rock along the lines of early Spock’s Beard? Maybe it’s all of this and more?
As the first track, “Terror Bird,” opens, it seems simple enough – sort of indie/alt pop-prog with a female singer (yes – I come from a world where that’s “simple”). There’s a point where the transitions almost felt like a video game; movement from room to room that causes a musical change as you enter a new room, but then heading right back where you started. Moving back and forth between a riff that could have been on a 90’s Smashing Pumpkins album and a synth break right off an 80’s Marillion album, as one piece it sounds altogether unique.
Some vintage synth sounds take you down the “Hole” to the second track. It’s definitely prog, but there’s a thick current of alternative music running through it. Syncopated rhythms and staccato interplay between the guitar and drums give way to a more straightforward chorus. I almost expected them to do a dubstep drop at one point, but they thankfully refrained.
“Holy Ghost” takes a darker sound, with a more straightforward bluesy alt-gospel feel.
“Insides In” follows and turns down the intensity for a softer jazzy ballad. As it fades into ambient violins and deep bass hits, it turns around and builds to a powerful conclusion.
“These Hands” opens with a riff that would have been comfortable on the Seattle grunge scene, and slowly builds momentum and speed, like a snowball rolling down a mountain, finishing big; and – as is a theme for the album – leaving us with some ambient noise after the explosion of musical energy.
This brings us to the title track, “Land Animal.” A dark, heavy intro gives way to more upbeat theatrical verses until, somehow, they bring the ideas together. As one idea resolves itself, it fades back down to a softer melody, which builds again, finishing right back where we started.
“Time Deer” opens with urgency, and breaks into the chorus which ran through my head the most after listening: “Oh, nasty dog, your choking on a cog in my time machine.” I’m not entirely sure if that has a deeper meaning, but the song is fun and complex.
One of the best parts of listening to “Land Animal” is that you never know what to expect next. Even after repeated listens, you’ll find yourself surprised by a sudden tempo change or mid-song genre shift. It’s full of great moments, like when the otherwise more laid-back “Belly Side Up” hits you with a nasty fuzzed out guitar riff right before its conclusion.
“The Well” takes us back to the feel of the beginning of the album a bit, with an eclectic mix of genres and unexpected dynamic changes, finally transitioning to some ambient sounds which take you to the final track, “Boxes.” While the album made a habit of switching up rhythms, dynamics, and expectations throughout; the final track lulls you off with steady drums, soft vocals, synth, and the occasional whiff of guitars eventually fading off into nothing.
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