Whenever a band is influenced by prog-rock, the end result is typically a mixed bag. In a few rare cases, such as Super Furry Animals, it can end up as an amalgamation of the best aspects of the much maligned genre. In most cases, however, it can end up as overblown, practically unlistenable musical meandering (e.g. The Mars Volta). But it is a rare band that can combine their love for King Crimson and Yes and catalyze it into enjoyable, fresh and listenable rock music.
Thankfully, 31 Knots is just such a band. On their previous record, It Was High Time To Escape, their lofty musical mathematics made for a fascinating and charming listen, though the songs weren’t quite as accessible as one might have hoped. That has changed considerably on Talk Like Blood. Though the (somewhat sloppy) math-rock riffs pop up here and there, the band’s ambitious artiness has been molded into ten righteous rock numbers.
Sounding less directly like Yes this time around, 31 Knots have brought their two biggest influences, prog and post-hardcore, much closer together. Genesis and Fugazi make strange bedfellows, to be sure, but this Portland trio makes it work. Many of the tracks come off sounding more like Modest Mouse, and on more angular tracks, Faraquet or Medications. That said, this is still identifiably 31 Knots, for those afraid of too much change. It’s just a much more accomplished and impressive version of the band.
There are more than a few standout tracks on Talk Like Blood, not the least of which is opener “City of Dust,” which finds its introduction in static-ridden electro beats and music box loops. All the while, vocalist Joe Haege’s distorted ramblings climax into a powerful harmony of “I am the city of dust/I am the cold dark place/I am the half dead flesh that needs no sleep.” “Hearsay” rolls along like a slower Fugazi, though the soaring vocals at the end may remind some of The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala. This is of little importance. Where the Mars Volta are grating, 31 Knots are captivating and dynamic.
“Thousand Wars” rocks adequately and briefly, “Intuition Imperfected” veers much closer to their art rock forebears, and “Proxy and Dominion” gets treated with some Pleasure Forever-like brothel piano. Baroque string samples open the peculiar, yet intriguing title track, and from there, the twists and turns just keep coming. Talk Like Blood still finds 31 Knots retaining much of their mathematical tendencies, but not at the expense of a good batch of songs. As an album, it’s still pretty scattered, but enjoyable regardless. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear a compelling and awe-inspiring set akin to The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I from these guys in the future. Until then, the trip toward it finds some interesting monuments along the way.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.