[21 June 2011]
This is the seventh full-length release from this stalwart Oregon act, a trio that has been kicking the jams every which way but loose since sometime during the Clinton years. That’s important to remember, because while hundreds of other loud, abrasive acts have come and gone in that time, 31 Knots is one of the few still standing. Listening to this 10-song outing, you might find yourself looking back to the sweaty, halcyon summers of yesteryear. The herky-jerky rhythms heard on tracks such as “Candles on Open Water” and “Onanist’s Vacation” seem to have been flown in from that bygone era. For a moment you could be forgiven for beginning to feel nostalgic, but there’s a large chasm twixt innovation and nostalgia. 31 Knots lands squarely on the side of the former. In short, these guys are the real deal. They sound thoroughly out of place in this new century, as surely as they did when they first arrived late in the last. They’re both anchored by tradition and boldly innovative, brimming with youth-filled imagination.
Sometimes it’s impossible to tell what the hell guitarist/vocalist Joe Haege, drummer Jay Pellicci and bassist Jay Winebrenner are trying to do. Are they attempting to craft some sort of new brand of pop music with “Love in the Mean of Heat”? (Imagine Sting and his protect-and-serve buddies having come of age in the wake of Jesus Lizard.) Are they really re-writing “Video Killed the Radio Star” during “Egg on My Face”? Or is neither the case? Whatever it is, it’s authentic, unsettling, unnerving, unrepentant, undulating and decidedly unapologetic. Haege’s guitar work during the aforementioned “Love in the Mean of Heat” is as unusual and exciting as guitar work can come, especially in an age when excitement about a loud guitar is, for some, tantamount to heresy. The band comes across like a group of arcade cowboys on “Stand Up” and Haege sounds like a futuristic crooner on “Dark Control”, another piece that, in some deeply disturbed alternate universe, is on the lips of every school child and every Sunday school teacher, or the equivalents thereof.
Plenty of moments on the record are just out-and-out weird, such as the introduction of “A Lot Can Tell”, which evolves into a relentless throb of darkness. There’s also the closing “One Tongue Room (Come to My Senses)”, a piece as ragged and raging as they come. None of it amounts to the band being weird for the sake of being weird. There is, as the cliché goes, a method to the madness, although the root and purpose of that madness remain a mystery. It’s a sure sign that 31 Knots continues to do something—everything?—right.
As this group glides toward another full decade of existence, it can truly be said that it remains almost singular in both its vision and execution of that vision. You can’t ever say that you fully understand a 31 Knots album. That is, of course, the band’s real charm—there’s always something new to discover, something new you can hope to discover, always some treasure under some stone that has not yet been turned. It’s great to have a band as demanding of its listeners as 31 Knots and its great to have a demand placed upon those listeners as solid and mystifying and terrifying and hopeful as Trump Harm.