Bent Knee – Frosting
Art Pop | Electronica | Art Rock
With their last record You Know What They Mean, art-rockers Bent Knee embraced their heavy side. It saw their most thunderous and ferocious walls of sound to date. While this approach suited them well, and won them scores of new fans, it wasn’t a side of their music that I found myself drawn to. They perhaps leaned a little too much in one direction for my liking, when what set them apart was just how multifaceted they were. The band have always had their heavy moments, but have also dabble in crafting haunting atmospheres and understated pockets of beauty. Here is a band who often rip up the rule book complex, off-kilter arrangements, and yet also have a gift for gorgeous melodies and memorable hooks. A group of incredibly skilled and knowledgeable musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously and set plenty of run time aside for fun and quirky antics.
While their first few albums were a broad buffet of different sounds, their latest offering Frosting continues the new blueprint set by its predecessor of focusing in on a particular facet. Hearing tell that they were aiming for a more pop orientated sound this time around, I was both keen and curious to hear their more bright and melodious tendencies get explored a little further. The end result couldn’t be further from what I envisioned. Instead of taking a side of their music I wasn’t too enamoured with and yet still admittedly doing it well, this time they’ve taken aspects I liked and poorly twisted them in a very misjudged way.
While Frosting certainly falls under pop, it does so under the most paradoxically inaccessible fringes. It is a record that seemingly goes out of its way to be as abrasive and unwelcoming as possible. The electronics intentionally heavy-handed, the noisy breakdowns purposefully impenetrable, and the overuse of autotune knowingly abhorrent. Tracks like the cluttered opener ‘Invest In Breakfast’, ‘Fighting All My Life’, ‘Rib Woman’ and the tortured squall of ‘The Upward Spiral’ really feel like they play against the band’s strengths. The amount of attention dedicated to electronic elements doesn’t give this bunch of exceedingly talented musicians much chance to shine, some of this record’s walls of sound are ear-splittingly unpleasant, and burying the earth-shattering vocals of Courtney Swain under so many unnecessary vocal effects is nothing short of a cardinal sin. Besides the bright and quirky ‘Caspar’ this album delivers double the weird but without any of the fun.
That said, the last few tracks on the record do offer some saving grace. ‘The Floor Is Lava’ is a blissful and airy ballad, while ‘Cake Party’ has some charming melodies and a gorgeous piano tone. ‘OMG’ offers a few fleeting moments for the rhythm section to truly shine in the front half of the song, and slow burning closing track ‘Not This Time’ saves the best till last as we finally get to hear Courtney’s voice in all its majesty. These flashes of brilliance are just enough to keep Frosting afloat, but also serve as a reminder of the album that could have been. I can see this album rubbing a lot of fans up the wrong way, while at the same time not having enough on offer to entice new fans into the fold. This time around the band’s experiments more often than not fail to land, but the silver lining of bands as fluid as Bent Knee is that they never stand still, and we can rest assured that whatever comes next will be a different beast entirely.