The Bush years have done a number on the psyche of 31Knots songwriter and guitarist Joe Haege and it shows in the nervous energy that permeates Worried Well, the latest long player from the Portland/San Francisco trio. Using complicated rhythms, off kilter time changes, and borrowing as much from CAN and Sonic Youth as they do Fugazi, 31Knots manages to maintain and build upon the unique sound first laid out on 2005’s Talk Like Blood.
The album kicks off with a 43 second A capella hand clap session and brief rumination about the corrupting power of your money before kicking into the album proper. On the first full track “Certificate” you get a sense of the angular guitar work of Haege, complex bass lines provided by Jay Winebrenner, and the amazing stop and start drumming style of Jay Pellici. You may also get the notion that Dick Cheney is tapping you phone calls.
Lyrically Haege touches on themes of evil corporate backrooms, a war obsessed oligarchy, and a nation under surviellence. It’s the use of intelligent allegories that keep this commentary from slipping into the pretentious. Much like how Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto can tell you about how Capitalism is killing you in a round about way without inducing an immediate eye roll, Haege possesses this magical power as well.
Describing 31Knots to another person can be a bit problematic and this is why they are often categorized in indie/prog/math rock category, which essentially means these guys have managed to create a truly distinctive sound. Musically the album is filled with irregular guitar pulses, noisy synthesizer elements that build up then collapse, a small tickling of the ivory here and there and even a little Latin drumming. Tracks such as “The Breaks,” “Strange Kicks,” and “Worried But Not Well” are the high points that find 31Knots at the top of their game. On the whole they seem to be refining and perfecting the sound laid out in their two previous albums.
While a few tracks stray from their previous sound, most notably the Duran Duran inspired “Upping the Mandate” most of the album finds them on familiar territory mixing and matching the better elements of their catalog. Unfortunately the album closer, “Between 1&2,” is a bit of a slow Eno influenced toss away, but the rest of the album is strong enough to forgive the filler.
The only problem with the uniqueness of 31Knots sound is that by default they end up aping themselves over the course of a few albums. If you created a Venn diagram of their last three releases the amount of overlap is what keeps this album out of the great category, and into the very good. Pick up a copy of Worried Well, if a band’s dilemma these days is that they have such a distinctive sound that it lends itself to a little repetition, it’s a fine problem to have.
Have a listen to a new track from the album entitled “Compass Commands” :
Download: 31Knots – Compass Commands [MP3]