Talk Like Blood
The first full-length 31 Knots released since signing up with Polyvinyl, Talk Like Blood is witness to the band pushing their scope. In some ways they seem evermore comfortable with elements that the Knots have been long acquainted with: gangly rhythms and singer Joe Haege's vocals right up front and confident, his talent and style not infrequently making the difference between an okay and good song. Both these key elements appear solidly fruitful on Blood. Haege's voice has never sounded more consistently moving on record, and the band's off-kilter take on the punk/indie/prog niche they're painted into is a relievingly artful stake-out of new territory.
It also sounds like they're stretching toward a new, more listenable goal, with heavier, less complex radio chords tempering the more experimental. The proportions between these two directions of maturity start and end disproportionately on Blood, with quirk starting in the lead, but gradually easing in more traditional rock sounds, until the last song on the album, "Impromptu Disproving" tips it over the edge to comparatively generic.
But in between the bookends lies a vast gray area filled with variations and compromises that contribute positively to the album's intricacy. Tired sounds sound new again, and experiments are more instantaneously comfortable. The band stands out best when they're spiking accordion and dirge keys into indie formulas (as in "Intuition Imperfected") or making dub sound like rock opera ("Hearsay"), but forays into more straightforward hard rock, such as the title track, still sound more interesting in the hands of 31 Knots than they have in years. MARJORIE SKINNER
31 Knots perform Fri Oct 14, at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison
Those who remember Dawn Smithson from her days singing and playing bass with blissful space-rockers Jessamine may be surprised by the tenor of her first solo album. Although she's recently contributed bass to glowering drone merchants Sunn O)))'s White 2: The Libations of Samhain, Smithson here goes for an intimate, bedroom-recording vibe that translates well to coffeehouses, but without succumbing to the annoying tics concomitant to singer/songwriters who make those rounds.
"Because this album is so personal and intimate, I think it is best listened to alone—like watching a melancholy movie that deeply affects you," Smithson says in the press notes—and she's right. From the opener, "Safer Here," it's apparent we're in for some serious introspection and lugubriousness. Smithson delicately plucks acoustic and electric guitars, and sings in a hushed, forlorn voice that suggests she's emerged on the other side of a traumatic experience, shaken but not defeated. These are draw-the-curtains, huddle-under-blanket songs that can nurse you back to normality after personal tumult—bittersweet consolation music. DAVE SEGAL
GREG DAVIS & SÉBASTIEN ROUX
Car Park Records
Paquet Surprise is a collaborative work between Parisian computer music researcher Sébastien Roux and the golden boy of the "folktronica" genre, Greg Davis. These guys are of serious academic stock and their collage of recordings draws from a deep musical well of subtle acoustic jams, musique concrete, and sunny harmony pop. Tracks like "To See the Wonderful World" and "Good Decision" tie invisible threads between Iannis Xenaxis and the Beach Boys, as soft voices rise up and digital glitches cohabitate with gentle, sweeping guitars. The album is far from a bare-knuckles thrill ride but succeeds fully at painting an imaginary world of the future where nature and beauty can coexist with technology. Certainly a place I'd like to vacation at for a while. JOSH BLANCHARD
Chandeliers in the Savannah
For those few of us who've paid attention to the many splinter groups that arose from the Blood Brothers' family tree—a list that includes such long-forgotten, embarrassingly named diversions as the slick, arty new wave of the Vogue and its slightly more angular spawn Soiled Doves—the spit-shined glamour of brand new double-B side project Neon Blonde (featuring the band's drummer Mark Gajadhar and primary squealer Johnny Whitney) should come as no great surprise. For the vast majority of their fans however, who likely picked up a record during one of their tours with some band like the Used or something, Neon Blonde is probably going to seem like some seriously gay-ass shit—the sort of shit that's been threaded through nearly every other band Whitney's taken part in. Counting among their primary influences the British glam triumvirate of Roxy, Queen, and Bowie, Neon Blonde (whose name, incidentally, is so awful it could only be that of a Blood Brothers side project) is primarily a drum and keyboard affair, tempered with occasional guitar squelch and electro-sonics for atmosphere. It's more scattered and caustic than its instrumentation might suggest, and not entirely without its avenues of interest: Whitney's traditional bizarro narratives—strung together atop stagger-stepping rhythms and cut-and-paste transitions—are generally compelling, and throughout, there are a handful of memorable tunes. Overall however, Chandeliers reeks of the same slapdash, tossed-off sensibility that mars so many of hipster-dumping-ground Dim Mak's releases—a place where the cool kids (the Gossip, Erase Errata, Blood Brothers, etc.) can always find a home for their one-offs, side projects, and other bullshit that's not good enough for their real labels. ZAC PENNINGTON
Richard M. Daley