Bent Knee is a band without frontiers. Its borderless sound combines myriad influences from across the rock, pop, minimalist, and avant-garde spectrums into a seamless, thrilling whole. Its new album Land Animal—Bent Knee’s first for InsideOutMusic/Sony—takes its sound to a new level. It offers a suite of songs full of addictive hooks, lush melodies and enthralling twists and turns that capture the reality of life in the 21st Century—a reality of people and nations in the midst of tumultuous change. It also communicates a ray of hope and desire for listeners to embrace the fact that they’re not alone in their struggles.
“The silo-smashing Bent Knee’s unique mix is equal parts ingenuity and deliciousness,” said Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal in 2016 when he first heard the group. “Bent Knee breaks new stylistic and temperamental ground,” declared Steve Smith of The Boston Globe. Other media outlets worldwide have reacted with similar enthusiasm, including NPR and the BBC, which have playlisted the band.
Bent Knee formed in 2009 as a democratic collective determined to push the boundaries of pop and rock. Lead singer and keyboardist Courtney Swain’s soaring vocals are instantly arresting. Guitarist Ben Levin is one of the most dynamic and versatile guitarists around, shifting between the raging and raucous to the sublime and meditative. Bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth combine into an enthralling rhythm section that’s equal parts powerhouse and nuance. Violinist Chris Baum’s kinetic violin work provides drama, grace and intrigue. World-class producer and live sound designer Vince Welch weaves it all together with a captivating, expert touch.
The band has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Its last two albums, 2016’s Say So and 2014’s Shiny Eyed Babies, were hailed as significant art-rock achievements. The group has performed hundreds of shows across the world to date. During the fall of 2016, the band played for ecstatic audiences as an opener for the U.S. leg of The Dillinger Escape Plan's farewell tour.
With Land Animal, Bent Knee has elevated its storytelling ambitions to create narratives that reflect and refract the currents we’re exposed to in the news every day.
“We’re at this bizarre point in history when our species can almost actively play God,” explained Baum, when discussing the themes running through the album. “We’re getting closer and closer through communication and technology. On the flip side, we still have many primal urges that have yet to evolve. There’s a strange balance between our technology and our biology that’s tremendously difficult to find. Land Animal explores where those animalistic urges come from and how we can harness and transform them to create a better reality.”
“The album has all kinds of songs about struggle,” added Levin. “We look at global warming, family strife, technology-mediated relationships, racism, and societal polarization. Each song is imbued with a dichotomy between who we are now as a species and where we’re going.”
As the band hits the road in support of the album, it intends to explore the diversity of thought amongst its ever-growing audience in a world where it's increasingly easy to live inside one's echo chamber of ideologies.
“I think our music is powerful and capable of uniting people with different perspectives,” said Kion. “They may think about things differently, but they’re there together, part of the concert. The fact that music and art can bring people together in that way is a really significant force that’s needed right now.”
“We haven’t made a political album with Land Animal,” said Wallace-Ailsworth. “However, it’s definitely motivated by the difficult state of the world at the moment. If people are able to take some comfort in our music or create dialog through it, those are great things for us.”
Like the band’s previous work, Land Animal is full of fresh, sophisticated arrangements and beautiful vocal harmonies, but it’s also its most direct statement to date.
“It’s a really juicy and immediate album,” said Swain. “With our previous album Say So, I think it took people a few listens to absorb its themes. That’s not the case with Land Animal, which delivers more instant gratification.”
“We tried to balance that with an appealing narrative arc,” said Welch. “The album starts with ‘Terror Bird,’ a song about individuals and communication issues and ends with ‘Boxes,’ a song that explores the fact that we’re all marching towards our own demise, so we better make the most of the time we have. Land Animal is an epic journey.”
At the end of the day, the band believes strongly in music as a force for positive change and delivering ideas no other medium is capable of.
“We believe music is the most efficient way to get a point across,” said Baum. “The only way to cut through the noise of a confused, globalized world is to create something that speaks directly to the soul, and that’s what we hope we’ve done with Land Animal.”