If anything, 31Knots are a testament to perseverance. It’s been eight years, and after two full-lengths and a couple of EPs on small independents, the band and their new album have arrived at Polyvinyl. For most, Talk Like Blood will be the first taste of 31Knots’ skewed, jagged art rock and for the others who have sampled the band’s taut math rock of the past, the new disc puts forth a new direction for the band.
The most shocking thing about Talk Like Blood are the absence of any hyper-instrumental workouts. Taking a more song-focused, melodic approach the band’s direction points more towards Deerhoof’s latest The Runners Four but to a far lesser effect. In wrestling the band’s usually freeform style into a (for lack of a better word) pop format, much of their potency goes missing. What’s left is surprisingly dull, and sometimes grating, batch of songs that should be so much better than they actually are.
The disc’s centerpiece, the six-minute “Chain Reaction” is a prime example of much that is wrong with the album. The song starts with a fairly impressive riff build around some well-executed hammer-ons and pull-offs. However, guitarist/vocalist Jon Haege, quickly switches from picking into thoroughly boring start-stop rhythmic strumming. The progression isn’t interesting enough to sustain a song of this length, but luckily bassist Jay Winebrenner makes things somewhat intriguing with some inventive fretwork in the latter half of the track. But this is largely the problem with Talk Like Blood—some interesting parts framed around many more dull, pedestrian ones. Take “A Void Employs a Kiss” which starts with some pretty nifty ascending and descending riffage, before settling into some fairly ho-hum early ‘90s post-punk. Even the looped strings of the title track disappointingly morph into a My Chemical Romance-lite emotional weeper. Even worse is “Busy Is Bold” which somehow manages to dull more of Winebrenner’s solid playing around a basic emo structure. But the album isn’t all missed opportunities. “Intuition Imperfected” is a solid treat that allows Haege to dance beautifully around some nicely sequenced beats. “Proxy and Dominion” also manages to balance some frenetic piano playing with some solid guitar work and wound up in a tight two-minute running time.
The album’s middling sound isn’t helped by equally middling lyrics. “Thousand Wars” starts with the eye rolling and not particularly convincing proclamation, “Hell hath no fury like me/I will drown your land and burn your seas.” Most of the other time, Haege prefers employing fairly amateur wordplay. Lines like “aiding abetting the bouts I’d turned into doubts,” “we patrolled the crooked straits” and “slit the wrist and watch as I study all the drips” merely trip over themselves rather than making the impact they should.
31Knots are the kind of band rock fans really want to root for. They’re stacked with talent, and show more than occasional flashes of brilliance. Unfortunately, they can’t seem to break the songwriting mould their playing needs them to. By continuing to stick with rudimentary arrangements 31Knots will fail to evolve into the band they so desperately want to be.