Thursday, September 12, 2013

Album Review: Crash of Rhinos - Knots

Album Rating: B+
There’s a storm brewing across the pond, it seems. Derby, England’s Crash of Rhinos, who’ve already been building up a decent following since their impressive 2011 release, Distal, are armed with a new full-length album and are poised to make yet another great leap towards what I believe to be their inevitable success. The band has certainly kept up the strong pace they established in 2011 with 2013’s Knots, offering up nearly an hour of music and a dense 13 tracks, many of which clock in at over 5 minutes, and not one that stumbles.

Immediately, the diversity of sounds and styles on Knots is striking. After hearing just the first track, “Luck Has a Name,” you’ll be under the impression that Crash of Rhinos is a modern Midwestern emo-influenced band with a knack for melody and strong post rock inspired guitar lines. The vocals and harmonies are well-done, which is a huge step up from many of today’s modern “emotional” bands, who all seem to favor an unconventional, criminally off-key delivery instead of the more polished sound. Distortion is also noticeably underused, even in the choruses. The clean, but complex guitarwork, however, more than makes up for the lack of obvious aggression, and the band is able to impressively build up tension and energy over the 6-minute track without the aid of too much fuzz or any blatant screaming.

Once the second song begins, though, much of the initially established sound is thrown completely out the window, and a straightforward, punky approach is taken instead. A different style of vocals is employed, characterized by a somewhat harsh, Jawbreaker-esque delivery, and the clean, polished guitar tones that worked so well just moments before have been replaced by a much duller fuzz. The track is, by no means, a bad offering, but given its placement on the album, “Opener” initially comes across as lazier and a bit less refined, like less care went into both writing and producing it. “Luck Has a Name” is as impressive as it is because it opens the album on such a huge note without being overly aggressive, and the restraint employed both in the songwriting and the execution helps elevate it to something far greater than the following track could ever hope to be.

“Opener” is a good song, but a different kind of good. It relies heavily on the tried and true conventions that made classic 2000s punk rock so enjoyable—the fuzz, lack of polished singing, and general untidiness just to name a few. It wasn’t written to blow you out of the water, but rather, to be a fun listen for fans of that style of music. Other tracks like “Interiors,” with its simple, but extremely catchy vocal melodies, and “Sum of All Parts,” with its heavy, euphoric choruses, equally embody this mindset, and function as enjoyable diversions from the other, more developed cuts.

Herein lies the problem, though. When you have a song like “Impasses,” near-universal in its appeal with masterful combinations of emotionally relatable lyrics, distortion-heavy choruses, and delicately powerful guitar melodies, these less diverse tracks just don’t quite live up to the best of Knots with their narrowly defined audiences. “Sum of All Parts” works on some level to combat this by offering a relatively straightforward verse and chorus before melting into a beautiful, jangly bridge, but this interesting inclusion lasts for merely a few seconds before reverting back to popular conventions. Where Crash of Rhinos is truly at their best is during tracks like the fantastic album closer, “Speeds of Ocean Greyhounds,” where they can give us the best of both worlds—pairing refined, mathy emo with fuzzy, catchy punk.

Ultimately, Knots does feel a bit uneven by its conclusion, with about half of the album really expanding on the ways you can combine these genres and the other half stuck in repetition, albeit good repetition. Simple punk songs, short instrumental pieces, and Midwestern emo songs are all present on Knots, which makes for a very entertaining listen, but after multiple play-throughs, certain songs start to rise far above the others. The band’s greatest strength is their wide range of influences and their ability to consistently play each genre well, so naturally, the songs that cover the most ground stylistically come to surpass those that linger along in just one genre. Still, there is not one weak track on Knots, and it’s great to see that Crash of Rhinos is garnering a lot of well-deserved attention from this remarkably solid sophomore attempt. The diversity in both the music and the tracklisting itself is more than enough to keep you listening for months, and no matter what you’re feeling, Knots has a perfect melody for your mood. Today, my friends, I’m feeling quite satisfied, and tomorrow, you will be too.


Track Listing:
1. Luck Has A Name
2. Opener
3. Everything Is
4. Interiors
5. Sum Of All Parts
6. The Reason I Took So Long
7. Impasses
8. Mannheim
9. Standards and Practice
10. Lean Out
11. Speeds Of Ocean Greyhounds

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