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Album Premiere: Knells II by The Knells

3 November 2017

The Knells; Photo Credit: Scott Friedlander

The brainchild of guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee, The Knells trace their roots back through nearly 1000 years of western classical music and refract them through the lenses of progressive, psychedelic, and experimental rock. On Knells II, releasing November 10th on Lee’s own imprint, Still Sound Records, the band further refines their unique sound with a collection of songs that seek emotional absolution beneath their dark-hued facades. Knells II will be available via digital download, CD, and limited edition vinyl through the band’s page at Bandcamp.

The second album from Lee and his art rock ensemble finds the group diving deeper into heavier subject matter, though the songs themselves are earthier and more raw. The lyrical themes on Knells II are also more straightforward, as Lee ponders emotional reconciliation — taking painful experiences like his father’s death and finding more nuanced perspectives on them — and then imbuing them with more positive interpretations.

“Sub Rosa” offers a lesson on appreciating time and letting go of the past amid an upbeat arrangement. “Poltergeist” weighs unhealthy obsession and self-defeating compulsion against the strength of one’s own will, and “Could You Would You” examines making difficult decisions and finding courage. The overall form of the album — a large, symmetrical arch — is a cohesive, unified statement, declared on the album’s opener, “First Song”: through acceptance is freedom.

The Knells were born on an eight-hour solo hiking expedition in Joshua Tree National Park in May 2010. Alone in the desert, Lee took his admiration for music on a spectrum encompassing everything from medieval vocal polyphony to mid-‘80s pop/rock and hardcore, and fashioned a project all his own. Combined with admiration for ‘60s pop vocal groups and boredom with the typical rock band archetype, Lee and soprano Nina Berman, mezzo Charlotte Mundy, alto Blythe Gaissert, guitarist Paul Orbell, percussionist Jude Traxler, drummer* Jeff Gretz*, and bassist Joseph Higgins reflect the dynamic, formal, and harmonic intricacies of classical music with the rhythmic energy and expressive vitality of rock.

Individually active as performers, composers, and studio musicians, their individual careers have taken them from beer-soaked underground jazz and rock clubs to solo performances at Carnegie Hall, engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera, and to titanic rock festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW) and the Hopscotch Music Festival. Since their inception, the band has performed together at several of New York City’s most prominent venues, including (le) Poisson Rouge, The Cutting Room, Roulette, SubCulture, and National Sawdust, among others.

The Big Takeover is delighted to premiere Knells II, an album that combines art rock and classical sophistication for an unusual and entrancing sound.

The band states, “In contrast to the first Knells album, Knells II is leaner, grittier, and a bit more down to earth. While the individual songs are generally shorter and flirt with more conventional song forms, the album itself was conceived as a large, through-connected arch, and is intended to be experienced as a single entity.”