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The Name Rings A Bell That Drowns Out Your Voice
In Music We Trust

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.

Matt King

Track Listing:

  1. Don’t Explain
  2. We Can Identify
  3. Thoughts in A Pattern
  4. The End of Trying
  5. Chance Meeting
  6. Guesswork
  7. Faces on the Journey
  8. I Keep on Waiting
  9. Need to Know Basis
  10. Who’s on My Side
  11. Find the Sun

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