4 out of 5
Produced by: Jay Pellici
At the time of Polemics, 31 Knots were slowly but surely morphing into a sound that would eventually be found on lead singer / guitarist’s Joe Haege’s next project, Vin Blanc / White Wine: treated drum beats, lots of shouting, experimental looping of guitar and keys. Trump Harm, ‘Knots’ 2011 album, pretty much matches that template; Polemics’ accompanying disc, Worried Well, was an uptick in musicality from the proggy indie rock of the preceding two discs, but it still was leaning in to Joe as a yeller, no longer singing over complex mashes of notes, but rather emoting over very catchy attacks of sound.
I’d been with Knots from the start, and it took me a long time to get in to their louder era, which sorta started way back when they switched drummers from Joe Kelly to Mr. Pellici. The EP prior to Polemics, The Curse of the Longest Day, was sort of a crossover sound from phase 1 (mathy prog) to phase 2 (indie first, with dashes of prog), and included some of my favorite tracks; Polemics, at a first listen, seemed like outtakes from something between their phase 2 albums (Talk Like Blood; The Days and Night of Everything Anywhere), and since I was still kinda down on those discs, I was kinda down on Polemics.
Time has increased my appreciation of those albums, and the same is true – even moreso – for Polemics, which sort of compresses all of the most eclectic moments and experiments from those albums into three brilliant tracks, one intro, and one oddball that would’ve fit better on a full disc.
Lead in Sounding Our Uncertainty is a typically interesting but abrupt lead-in; Haege and crew have done these things on most of their albums, and though it’s less than a minute here, it sets the stage for the deconstructionist indie rock to follow. The next three tracks sort of build / evolve from prog pop to more outre noise, and the step-by-step approach makes every track land hard, allowing Knots’ fascinatingly composed hooks and Joe’s lyrics gripping throughout. Sedition’s Wish and Vanish leap back to the true prog years, but then bring in blasts of fantastic distortion, and horns, and electronic stuttering. Black Ship Auction leans less on guitar squiggles, but is equally genius: a deep and angry track that ebbs and flows to a powerful conclusion. Closer Endless Days is a good track, for sure, but it causes the EPs momentum to take a dive; it needs a longer lead-in to make its more minimalist approach have impact, whereas 15 minutes of high-powered prog workouts just make for an unfortunate juxtaposition.
Pellici’s fuzzy production has often stood in the way of allowing some of the nuance of ‘Knots’ stuff to come out, but it’s a nice boon here, adding a rough edge to the mixed bag of approaches the group stuffs in to 20 minutes. A highlight from their catalogue, for sure.