For those who don’t know, Bent Knee is a band who will blow your mind out of your soul and crush your heart with kindness… live. On record, the effect isn’t quite this daunting, so it’s hard to talk about the album with people who haven’t seen it articulated live. It’s like reading an absolutely amazing book and then seeing the movie and not being as impressed.
This isn’t to say that this album is unimpressive. For newcomers to this band, Shiny Eyed Babies will definitely be something you haven’t quite heard before. As an introduction to these Boston art rock road warriors, it is their most polished and complete output and it’s this kind of foundation that one can only build up from. It’s the blueprint for the future of alternative rock. Listen to this album and memorize these songs and then see them live, because if the album is the blueprint, then the live show is the actual house that you can walk into and make a sandwich and take a shower in.
For people who are well aware of Bent Knee’s soul-shattering presence, you’ll recognize most of these songs and are probably as excited as I was to finally get take-home versions of them, but keep in mind that Bent Knee the live band is not Bent Knee the record maker. They’re almost two different entities and on this album it became much clearer. It was a jarring transition at first, but upon further listens I realized that they weren’t simply trying to recreate the live show. These songs become massive-multidimensional art structures that you can take home and study and if anything, it makes the songs all the more powerful when you see the band live because you’ve explored all the sonic nooks and crannies of each tune. Don’t worry, they still have the intensity of Slayer with the vulnerability of Fiona Apple live. But it just goes to show the dynamics these six really have.
Make no mistake, the album still gets intense. “Way Too Long,” “In God We Trust,” and “Sunshine” explode at all the appropriate parts, but it’s the things that they can’t recreate live that the album really offers. Not just the thirteen-piece orchestra (Wow guys) but little effects here and there. Clicks and buzzes, extra voices. Small things you don’t pay attention to live.
Then there’s the actual construction of the album. Thirteen songs is quite a lot, especially on an independent level, so ambition in scope for this behemoth is apparent from the beginning. The title track seems like more of a prologue to the album before everything is literally shouted into gear with “Way Too Long.” “Dry” and “I’m Still Here” are almost inappropriately personal songs that having the album allows the listener to properly experience; at home, with the lyrics, listening closely. The “singles” of this album are definitely “In God We Trust,” “Battle Creek” and “Skin.” Not that this is a band you’re looking for if you want pop radio hits, but they do stand alone the way pop radio hits supposedly do. “Battle Creek” especially, one of the few guitar-leading songs paints a jarringly serene landscape with such dark, violent implications. “Untitled” and “Democratic Chorale” are light piano-ballad interludes similar to the title track which provide nice bridges between the bigger sonic monsters, the most unique would be their restrictive cover of “You Are My Sunshine.” Yes, they do cover this song, and it is the opposite of a lullaby. The triple punch ending of “Skin,” “Being Human” and “Toothsmile” is an effective closer to this beast.
Still, it is not Bent Knee the live band, and maybe that’s a good thing because a record and a show shouldn’t be an identical experience, otherwise what’s the point of seeing the show when you have the record? They are still one of the best live shows you will ever see and translating that impermanent emotional experience into something tame and permanent is no easy task, but it appears that Bent Knee is definitely up to the challenge. – Bennett Mohler