If two bands can speak for a continent, something about Australia
brings out the thoughtful, plaintive, and determinedly restrained
side of its musical citizenry. This generalization rests
on the Dirty Three and Knievel, whose third
album The Name Rings A Bell That Drowns Out Your Voice
comes off almost gothic in its instrumentation and tone.
The Dirty Three have tapped into a compelling folk culture
and achieve a striking human depth with an intentionally rough
rhythm section (in this case a drum kit and a guitar) and
a luscious fiddle. Although utilizing a variety of electronics
and more complex arrangements, Knievel finds as strong a sense
of humanity as the Dirty Three and perhaps a more romantic
notion of psychological entrapment. Of course, this entrapment
allows for a greater possibility of sublimation whereas the
folk approach of the Dirty Three offers a dignity both simple
and present. Knievel’s approach, although not necessarily
more compelling, explores a wider ground and consequently
finds a more complex network of answers than is available
in a folk tradition.
The Name Rings A Bell That Drowns Out Your Voice comes
off foremost as a process, as an attempt to understand the
layers of consciousness and identity that manifest themselves
throughout a lifetime. “Don’t Explain” opens the album commenting
on how an acquaintance of the narrator can’t sustain the
same old pace / colour’s drained from your face / then one
day your plans fall through / a shadow is following you.
“We Can Identify” follows up this sentiment by noting that
there’s only so much that we can say / your glazed eyes
have nothing to convey / we go down the same roads everyday
/ a step forward is just a step away / we’re moving toward
the speed of sound / and still we can’t seem to cover ground.
The routine of life, the attempt to move towards a goal, is
complicated by shadows, glazed eyes, and immobility. The
problem seems to rest within the narrator and his comrade,
but their attempts to move beyond yield no understandable
answers. The quest seems to require a different understanding
of the universe, whether it be the physical universe and its
speed of sound or the spiritual universe and its roads seen
through glazed eyes. As “Thoughts In A Pattern” suggests,
however, paths are worn and a thought pattern’s formed,
making this understanding difficult to achieve. Knievel’s
concerns revolve around a romantic understanding of self and
identity; the songs serve as attempts to balance the psychological
and spiritual demands of the individual against the universe
that must support these demands.
This theme continues throughout the album. “Find The Sun”
offers an answer of sorts at the close of the album: there’s
things they still don’t know / and the past is still in tow
/ is this as close as you will come in your search to find
the sun? / everyone needs something else to distract them
from themselves / and the patient ones collect the rewards
they don’t expect / and your vision disappears when the way
ahead is clear / on the path you have begun on your way to
find the sun. The narrator suggests passivity in the
form of patience and distraction from an active and misleading
vision. The answer to the problem of the demands of the individual
seems to come in not pushing the issue; yet this issue surrounds
and overwhelms us. To be on the path to the sun is not to
lose interest in the implications of the path and the sun.
Instead, the problem becomes more potent as our attempts to
escape it prove futile.
Knievel further captures the circular and layered nature
of the soul’s demands through tense yet pondering instrumentation
that occasionally betrays its gothic roots. In many ways,
these three Aussies align themselves with such introspective
acts as the Cure and the Smashing Pumpkins.
While these mainstream acts are more often dramatic than subtle,
they both play their contemplative lyrics against a brooding
musical vision that relies heavily on a notion of layers to
mirror a sense of layered psychological and spiritual needs.
Knievel keeps the layers but loses the histrionics, showing
their ties to the supposedly more natural and folk-based Australian
musical culture. This simply involves a sound more acoustic
than electronic, more airy than synthesized. The opening
track “Don’t Explain” could easily pass for a Pumpkins song
if the guitar lines had heavier effects and the keyboards
sounded more arching and flashy. While the electronic weight
works well for their gothic counterparts, Knievel’s music
contains just enough noise and polish to prick the psychological
fancy while maintaining a strong and simple humanity.
Although showing a powerful connection to various musical
peers, Knievel ultimately make their aesthetics original and
compelling. Few lyricists can handle this thematic line with
a delicacy that shapes and prods without exploding into a
style more contrived than penetrating. The result is stark
and beautiful, probing and thoughtful. The music and themes
might be familiar, but The Name Rings A Bell That Drowns
Out Your Voice carries an integrity at its center that
should be recognized as inspired.
- Don’t Explain
- We Can Identify
- Thoughts in A Pattern
- The End of Trying
- Chance Meeting
- Faces on the Journey
- I Keep on Waiting
- Need to Know Basis
- Who’s on My Side
- Find the Sun
in the webboard
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!