Bent Knee are not a band for convention. In fact, since forming in 2009, the Boston-based six-piece have been on a constant journey of musical exploration that thoroughly disregards it. The result is five records that completely defy categorization and transcend genre. In other words, the band don’t just break the rules, they make up their own. That’s ensured they exist exclusively on their own terms. Frosting, the band’s sixth full-length, pushes those boundaries even further. It’s the most Bent Knee-esque Bent Knee record to date, which means that, simultaneously, it’s also the album of theirs that sounds the least like Bent Knee.
That’s perhaps a journey the band – Courtney Swain (lead vocals/keyboards), Ben Levin (lead guitar/backing vocals), Jessica Kion (bass/backing vocals), Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth (drums), Chris Baum (violin/backing vocals) and Vince Welch (synthesizers/guitar) – would have taken anyway, but the extent to which it’s true was amplified by circumstance. While no-one needs reminding about the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic, it did mean that Bent Knee weren’t able to approach the making of this record in the same way as the previous five. In fact, this one was written entirely remotely.
“This was definitely very different,” admits Welch, who – like all previous Bent Knee albums – was also behind the sound design and production of this one. “Every other album had basically been the band in a room at at least some point in the process, but we finished this one still having never played these songs together. And then the technological limitation of having to send each other everything created this different dynamic that slowed everything down. You didn’t have to react to an idea in like half a second – you could take an afternoon to ponder it.”
The result is a record that contains a wealth of disparate sounds and influences, one that continues the band’s innate refusal to be pigeonholed (“It drives me crazy when musicians limit themselves on account of genre,” says Welch). As such, Frosting is an album that veers wildly in atmosphere and texture, but which all comes together to form one beautifully cohesive whole. It starts with the energizing technicolor burst of “Invest In Breakfast”, a hyper-pop song that’s akin to the sugar rush of a bowl of Fruit Loops, but that’s then followed by the portentous, harrowing and almost apocalyptic avant-gardisms of “Baby In The Bush”, a somber, slow-motion storm of emotional damage. The contrast between the two is striking, but that’s the point. This is an album that ebbs and flows between extremes, musically and lyrically, that captures the gamut of human emotion and experience. There’s the good-natured, uplifting electronic sunshine of “Casper” and the carefree, soulful musical breeze of “Fighting All My Life” – and then the twisted, tortured, Nine Inch Nails-referencing 21st century schizoid blast of “The Upward Spiral”. That, though, is followed by the calming, peaceful and heartbroken “Set It Off”, one of the most vulnerable and tender moments on this record. Elsewhere, “Have It All” – one of many songs that incorporates format shifted vocals into its folds – is a spirited neo-pop song that sets the tone for the highly-charged “Queer Gods” that immediately follows it. “The Floor Is Lava” travels back in time to the innocence of childhood. “OMG” almost sounds like a collision of five different songs before it bleeds into the shapeshifting finale of “Not This Time”. A rousing album closer, it almost seems to reprise the entire the musical and emotional journey that preceded it before fading into a haunting, sad silence.
“The whole record is a mix of lighthearted and pretty songs, and then heavy, nasty songs,” says Welch. “I initially thought it was going to have to be multiple EPs, but we decided to lean into the differences between the songs and find an album order that switches as aggressively as possible.”
But Frosting is not just an exploration of creativity, nor does it simply continue the impressively innovative journey they’ve been on since the start. It’s also an important celebration of pure creativity, of the freedom to follow your muse, of making art for the love and joy of making art. Which, after all, is really the only reason it should ever be made. That’s something the band took to heart especially for this album.
Frosting is out Nov. 5th via Take This To Heart Records
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