31 Knots, Trump Harm

Anthony Mark Happel

31 Knots, Trump Harm [Polyvinyl]

31 Knots is a band that’s almost too smart for their own good. Sadly, in the realm of commercial or popular art of any kind it is often the case that the smarter the art itself the narrower the audience for it. People often say they just want to be entertained by art, and it’s too taxing to have to go deep and think about music too much, for example. Fair enough. But, what are you missing if you don’t engage music on a deeper level? It’s a fair question with regard to this band.

Over the course of their career this triple-team of tempestuous tune-makers (Joe Haege-guitar/vocals, Jay Winebrenner-bass, Jay Pellicci-drums) has written and performed dozens of smart, flexible, agile songs that are loaded with ideas and changes, and they often move so quickly from one element to another it’s a safe bet most casual music listeners couldn’t keep up. Their post-punk-prog is often full of catchy phrases and all kinds of musical hooks, but the finished product can be complex and not easy to comprehend in one listen. They’ve maintained the courage of their musical convictions despite the grim realities of the market and superficial, fleeting public tastes. Haege says in the press notes, “…we were never willing to alter what came out of us naturally to try and garner more of a following. We make music and it happens to come out this way.”

The pay-off comes over the course of each of their albums. “Onanist’s Vacation,” hints, in both title and content, at what we’re headed for on this particular wild and crazy boat trip, their seventh album. Their core sound this time out is its own brand of slack-jawed, disjointed, mostly keyboard and percussion-driven angsty verbalizing. There’s a subtle rhythmic push-pull/back and forth thing going on, and when it all clicks it really clicks, like on “Candles of Open Water”. There is space between the vocals and the instruments which creates an atmospheric quality that suits the exploratory, flayed songwriting. The wandering Pavement-styled moves with the odd tunings become something wholly new in their very capable hands. They fold into the batter a lot of ingredients without losing the recipe, and without overly intellectualizing it all, but you have to finish the meal to get the gist. This is music that unfolds in new ways each time you engage it. Sometimes, in life and in art, it’s worthwhile to slow down and dig a little deeper.

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