They say first impressions are always important. I say first impressions are bogus. At least in this music business. For one could take a listen to 31 Knots’ latest album A Word Is Also a Picture of a Word and say, “That’s nothing. Take it off, now.” Such first impressions may even be warranted if the listener was not the adventurous type who wasn’t into discovering new and interesting sounds. But a second impression, that’s where the truth often lies. Play the album again. There’s something inexplicable about the way the guitars bounce off the bass bouncing off the drums. The way those vocals just click and dig their heels in permanently as well as any Top 40 chart blazer you’d care to name. The way the whole thing sounds so strange yet so very and enjoyably familiar.
This is 31 Knots from Portland, Oregon. This is their sound. This is them telling you to ditch your first impressions and to just let their album play. Yeah, there are going to be odd spots along the way. Moments in the songs that sound like they shouldn’t work, but do. Those moments leading into a purely pop space that also feels jarring, but sounds wonderful. A clean sound, a tight production, a trio of musicians who know what the hell they’re doing and don’t mind showing off those talents.
Joe Haege. He’s the guitartist and vocalist. Listen to his finger knotting structures snap and pop along every moment of the tantalizing “E For Alpha” or the acoustic instrumental “Flight of the Moron” that allows the tender folkie types to stand along at the side watching their own guitars go down in flames. Joe’s technique works well alongside that of Jay Winebrenner’s, the bassist and vocalist of 31 Knots. It’s not every day that you hear a bassist like this. Every so often a guy comes along with the instrument and redefines it. He plays in a way that is mind-boggling but very accessible. He reminds you of how good a really great bass line can sound if put in the proper hands. That’s what Jay does. He plays his bass. He works in conjunction with Joe and together the two create micro bursts of intense music that are carried off by more traditional forms of composition that in turn dissolve into something a bit more abstract. But the notes are never one part talent to two parts bullshit. This is not guitar and bass wanking as a show of bravado. This is some damn fine music.
Propelling them along is drummer Joe Kelly. His flawless fills, punctuating pounding, and equation-defying timekeeping are something to hear. Is this jazz? Is it indie rock? Is it merely something new? It’s all these things, but Kelly keeps things where they belong, in a tightly focused space that keeps the 31 Knots engines firing fully at all times. And these three men when playing together create some of the most beautiful sounds to ever come from a trio of musicians who ever dared to expand the boundaries of the indie rock landscape.
The vocals at times sounds like that of Rivers Cuomo, but the lyrics are nothing near the Weezer notebooks. “Frozen Found Fire” may just be the highlight of the album, in both music and lyrics. Hearing it is like delving into some madman’s genius writings that can only make you want to write as well. “Frozen found fire fucking desire / But liquid was quick with a kiss to the air / Though solid is stern it’s still subject to burns / Lust is still laughing in the face of despair”. Too good. A well-kept secret. 31 Knots are the men to watch.
Along the way are such blistering moments as every minute of “Breathe To Please Them” and the majesty of “Era of Artillery”. A Word Is Also a Picture of a Word is as intricately fascinating as its own title. To pigeonhole this group as another progressive or math rock outfit would be a crime. This band is beyond those genres. And better, too. To fully experience the greatness of 31 Knots, one must only play this album. And whatever you do, don’t go by the first impressions. Even if the first time around is one of awe, play this one again and again to increase that feeling and to realize just what great music is really all about and how rare an animal it truly is lately.