Nowadays it's very difficult to write and create original music that is hardly to find on other albums. Since I started to write reviews about progressive rock albums, I discovered few albums that I could label as truly progressive. I especially mean innovative music that I hadn't heard before. However, recently I listened to a debut album recorded by the American band called The Knells from New York. The band members label their music as 'post rock neo-psychedelic chamber prog'.
The band was founded by guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee, a musician who worked with a wide range of different musical styles: from classical music to rock music and everything in between. As a rock guitarist he has performed alongside Billy Idol and with Steve Jones, the former guitarist of the Sex Pistols. He is widely known as a classical guitar virtuoso who recorded several solo albums. Besides McKenna Lee, The Knells feature Nina Berman (vocals), Amanda Gregory (vocals), Katya Powder (vocals), Paul Orbell (guitar), Jude Traxler (percussion), Michael McCurdy (drums, percussion) and Joseph Higgins (bass). The album was recorded with special guests of the Mivos String Quartet on cello, viola and violin.
For me the music on their eponymous debut is difficult to describe, because they present a kind of music that I haven't heard before. That makes it hard to give any references. This hour-long record contains ten compositions that wonderfully blend classical and progressive rock music. Especially the Renaissance-inspired polyphonic vocal performances of the three female singers make their music so unique. They mostly use their voices as an additional instrument and they perfectly control different vocal styles, sometimes even tending to a jazzy kind of style. At other times it sounds as if you're listening to a sixties Motown vocal group or even to an opera!
Apart from the outstanding vocal performances, the guitar parts are probably the next important. The guitarists perfectly play various musical styles that all fit in the well-written compositions. Sometimes they play rock music; at other times they exchange the electric guitars by acoustic ones in order to provide the music a classical touch. To prevent all the songs from getting too mellow or laid-back they use a rhythm section that's able to play strong grooves. This means that from time to time the music goes into higher gear, thus providing the album a lot of variety. In my opinion this CD contains only highlights.
All of the ten compositions are worthwhile listening to, but you must be willing to listen to the entire album. This will probably be a problem for many people. I'm convinced that some of them will stop listening already in the beginning and some halfway through. The album is sometimes so intense that you're inclined to play another CD! However, those who play this musical rollercoaster until the end will find out that this is an extraordinary album compared to the usual progressive rock records!
No keyboards were used, but that was absolutely no problem for me. That's rather strange if you know that keyboards are above all my favourite instruments as far as prog rock is concerned. But this time the other instruments just made me forget the absence of keyboards, which certainly is a compliment to all musicians involved! Concerning the lyrics you could say that this album honours the classic idea of a thematic concept album. It examines the personal and eternal questions that define and confound the human search for meaning and significance. In service of this overarching theme they confront such specific ideas as one's perception of the passage of time, the illusive nature of progress, the power of perspective and the circular and ultimately transcendental beauty of nature.
The debut of The Knells was a unique listening experience for me that I enjoyed a lot. I have to compliment those musicians who produced such very original sounding music which is hard to be compared to anything else. Therefore neither names nor musical references this time. Just think out of the box and listen to The Knells on their websites and find out that they created an extraordinary album!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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