Exposé Online banner

The Knells — The Knells
(New Amsterdam NWAM051, 2013, CD)

by Peter Thelen, 2013-12-18:

The Knells Cover art The Knells is the recording and performing project of guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee. The ten compositions here represent a formidable body of work, highly original in many respects, and clearly ambitious. Lee’s ensemble includes four instrumentalists (bass, drums and two guitars, including himself), three female vocalists (I want to say Choir, as this is the mode they operate in), and a five-piece string ensemble. I could almost swear I hear some other instrumentation in the mix (primarily woodwinds and horns), but I see no credits, so there you have it. There are a couple instrumentals here, and some lengthy song introductions, mostly softer introspective interludes that offer a respite between the grandiosity of the major cuts where all the players and singers are engaged. Lee is an amazing and inventive guitarist, and does get many chances to shine throughout, borrowing influence from everything from classical to blues, but that’s a lesser aspect of their big, all encompassing sound. Most of the pieces are slower paced, sort of like a heavy shoegazer sound mixed with an influence of mid-period Pink Floyd and some happenstance Robbie Krieger-like psychedelicisms, but more than anything, it’s the massed choral vocals that set this apart from just about anything else out there that one might hear. The singers seem constantly engaged in amazing wordless harmonies and brilliant counterpoint, occasionally backing off to allow one or another singer step out front. There are lyrics, but for the most part they are difficult to follow without the lyric sheet that has been kindly provided in the booklet. Although it may take a few listens to get tuned into The Knells wavelength, patience rewards; this is, more than anything, unique.

by Henry Schneider, 2014-02-13:

The Knells is Brooklyn-based Andrew McKenna Lee’s musical project combining elements of Renaissance madrigal singing, 20th Century classical music, jazz, and progressive rock. The Knells ensemble consists of soprano Nina Berman, mezzo soprano Amanda Gregory, alto Katya Powder, guitarist and percussionist Andrew McKenna Lee, guitarist Paul Orbell, drummer Michael McCurdy, and bassist Joseph Higgins. In addition, the Mivos String Quartet (Olivia de Prato on violin, Joshua Modney on violin, Victor Lowrie on viola, Mariel Roberts on cello, and Isabel Castellvi on cello) joins in on several tracks. This is an interesting concept, but somehow it doesn’t all come together for me. I find the instrumental passages to be outstanding, but I have a hard time with the vocals. The lyrics are in English but the vocals are extremely difficult to understand unless you meticulously follow along with the printed word. It all sounds like sterile wordless dissonant singing to me. Plus there is not much variation in the handful of notes they sing, which caused me to rapidly loose interest. The high point for me is the instrumental “Spiral Poem” and the Frippian guitar licks on “Spiral Knells.” The Knells is one of those albums that is best taken in small doses. Trying to listen to it in one go was quite a challenge for me. I applaud Andrew’s attempt to marry these disparate musical elements, but it just did not work for me.

by Jon Davis, 2013-12-06:

Some music seems to exist in a world of its own, a place where it came into being spontaneously because it had to exist. The Knells sounds like that to me, music that is somehow not quite part of our normal world. All of the elements of the music, the three female vocalists, the two guitars, the string section, and so on, are part of our world, but the end result of their combination seems otherworldly. Of course, it's grossly unfair to composer Andrew McKenna Lee to suggest that his art came into being by itself — I'm sure he worked long and hard to put it together once the initial idea came into his head, not to mention the years of study and practice that made the work possible. The first track starts with a somewhat off-kilter guitar part full of dissonant chords and unusual voicings, then the second guitar, bass, and drums come in and for a time The Knells sound like a relatively normal instrumental rock band. But at the two minute mark, there's a brief moment of calm, and the singers come in. Their parts here, as throughout the CD, are arranged very nicely, sometimes with harmonized chords, sometimes polyphonic counter-melodies, and sometimes with clustered intervals a bit reminiscent of the mysterious Bulgarian voices. One of the things that strikes me about the singing is that there is virtually no vibrato used, even on long tones. While I'm not generally a fan of over-dramatic operatic vibrato singing, the pure tones used here can be quite brash, giving the singers a bit of the sound of being sampled on a keyboard. It's pretty rare in the arrangements that a single voice appears unaccompanied by the other two, so some of the intimacy of individual expression is lost. But those are minor observations, not criticisms. The two guitars are great together, with a variety of different sounds, sometimes with interlocking melodic parts, sometimes one playing chords and the other melody, sometimes providing atmospheric effects. The string arrangements are similarly varied, not just serving as keyboard replacement. These parts are really interesting in their own rights, and an integral part of the music. Mallet percussion appears from time to time, providing even more sonic variety. All in all, this is an impressive debut, and an example of musical ambition backed by both the talent and technique to pull it off.

Filed under: New releases , 2013 releases

Related artist(s): The Knells

More info
http://theknells.com

Latest news

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more

2019-02-21
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more

2019-01-31
Keyboardist Ingo Bischof R.I.P. – Keyboard player Ingo Bischof, best known as the longtime keyboard player of German band Kraan, passed away on January 29th, 2019. Bischof was born January 2, 1951 in Berlin-Kreuzberg and joined Kraan in 1975. » Read more

2019-01-11
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

French TV - Virtue in Futility – Four years in the making, and no less than seven years after the second album, this latest offering by Louisville's French TV is certainly worth the wait. One unanswered question is why it took...  (1994) » Read more

Kenso - Kenso I – It was just last issue in our Belle Antique label overview that this writer said something to the effect that since all the best tracks from Kenso's first eponymous LP had been included as bonus...  (1996) » Read more

Pierre Vervloesen - Home Made – Vervloesem is a Belgian guitarist whose music is unique and attention grabbing. You have probably never heard anything quite like it, but it fits somewhere in the realm of progressive, fusion, avant...  (1996) » Read more

TagYerit - Heavy Construction – With its male / female harmony vocals, short, somewhat catchy tunes, and a folky flavor at times, Heavy Construction is reminiscent perhaps of a Richard and Linda Thompson album. That is to say,...  (1997) » Read more

Jasun Martz - The Pillory - The Battle – Ex-Zappa sideman and painter Jasun Martz is also a semi-classical electro-acoustic composer who has been operating under your popular music radar for sometime. His initial recording, The Pillory,...  (2005) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues