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31Knots - Worried Well

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Artist: 31Knots

Album: Worried Well

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Nov. 5, 2008

Band longevity tends to create certain anxieties about their “sound.” How long can they really hope to keep it up? With Worried Well, the sixth studio album from 31Knots, the question starts to loom a little larger. Understandably so; the band has been trafficking in angular, art-damaged indie rock for 10 years now, gaining enough clout on regional Pacific Northwest label 54-40 or Fight! to precipitate a move to Polyvinyl. It’s been a steady climb, but with 2003’s popularly acclaimed It Was High Time To Escape set to be re-released on vinyl, some evaluation of the band’s progress is definitely in order.

The production on Worried Well is bigger, the instrumentation more varied, the songwriting more ambitious. Joe Haege’s concerns aren’t just his own neuroses, but those of a savage consumerist society about to tear itself apart. Opener “Baby of Riots” points Haege’s abstract-expressionist invective directly at the apocalyptic implications of materialism: “You marry your money and look what became / You made a baby of riots.”

The band’s urgent fatalism in songs about society’s abject decadence has never been more apparent than in the Golding-esque “kill or be killed” golden rule of “Compass Commands” or the hellish implications of the waiting room in “The Breaks.” And the sugar-coated rot present in the lyrics is mirrored in the music. The guitar lines have a slick but skronky sound with artists as relatively dissonant as Queen, At The Drive-In, and Built to Spill. They’re louder and fuller than anything the band has done before, which really lets Haege bellow without restraint. It’s a controlled chaos, for better or worse.

The expanded instrumental palette may be the biggest difference on this album – and the band’s greatest strength. Ragtime and classical piano, jazz-inflected horns, and human percussion lend Worried Well a certain Rain Dogs appeal that might seem grandiose if not for the band’s eclectic writing ability. “Certificate” starts out as just another indie track, but veers into a squall of trumpets and lands firmly in chamber piano territory.

At its core, though, Worried Well is still fundamentally guitar-driven, and the band hasn’t forgotten how to use them. For all the dread present in these songs, the center can’t hold forever, so when the floodgates open up on “Worried But Not Well,” it’s expected and warranted. The furiously noisy guitar barrage eventually settles down, though, and locks into a metronymic post-punk beat by the end. Even at their most neurotic, 31Knots were smart enough to leave themselves an exit strategy.

By Evan Hanlon

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