31Knots – Talk Like Blood

4 out of 5

Label: Polyvinyl

Produced by: Ian Pellici, Jay Pellici

There’s 31Knots and there’s 31Knots. There are the years before Polyvinyl, and then there are the years with Polyvinyl. What if Talk Like Blood had been my first 31Knots disc? What would I think of them?

Prior to this album, 31Knots were skronk and mathy. They had Joe Kelly on drums. They surged and swayed; they rocked; Joe Haege alternated between sing-songs and screams, and wound dense, metaphorical lyrics around similarly dense guitar / bass / drums compositions. On It Was High Time to Escape, we can hear the group transitioning a bit – to the sound we hear on Talk Like Blood: Jay Pellici is drumming full time; Joe starts to get a bit more on the nose with some of his lyrics; and you might, y’know, call them emo and not math. It happens.

And so What If?

Talk Like Blood has some Polyvinyl elements to it, but Haege – and this is the album where this more solidly became a group of people fronted by Joe, in the sense that his presence is always what the tracks are based around – cannot, thankfully, avoid his preferences for noise and chaos, making 31Knots’ Polyvinyl albums some of the loudest and noisiest in their catalogue. But harsher variations on that are to come; this label debut latches on to the winding melodies of before a then urges them on with a Clash / Gang of Four-esque staccato rhythm. The whole album blazes by with momentum emotion; not as dense as even previous EPs, but also without the roadblocks that came with that more layered sound. Some of this streamlining feels like the group holding back: when they veer towards an accessible bit of rocking out, there’s something slightly disconnected about it; I’d note that vocals and guitar and drums and bass were recorded separately, and that feels slightly representative: the album can seem like an equation to achieve the most poppy math-rock disc of all time, cutting and pasting the formula together.

The thing is… it works. We’re not joining the group in the middle of that problem-solving, as that’s what the previous albums were for. Rather, Talk Like Blood is nigh final form, which is what allows for its brisk pace. While I don’t know if I would’ve been as floored by this album had it been my first exposure to the group (admittedly, I kind of hated it a bit at first, having fallen in love with their 54’40 or Fight! releases), I’ve definitely come around to it; it’s always been the disc of theirs with the highest percentage of earworms, and so I found myself easily returning to it, which of course had the effect of making it even more memorable.

After this, 31Knots would give another go with the equation in the slightly roomier Days and Night of Everything Anywhere, and then their sound would morph once again. On both sides of that there’s some pretense, whether in the ambitiously fractal earlier albums, or the more brash sounds of later ones, but Talk Like Blood strips all of that away, or rather balances it: it’s live; it’s to the point; it’s catchy as all hell. No, I wouldn’t call it the band’s best album, but it is the best summary of everything they do, simmered to maximum effectiveness.