31Knots – It Was High Time to Escape

4 out of 5

Label: 54’40 or Fight!

Produced by: Ian Pellici, Jay Pellici (recorded, mixed by)

While ‘favorites’ are one of those highly variable qualifiers, I do think that 31Knots has passed through the crucible to stand as one such favorite for me, their music and lyrics still appealing after, dang, over a decade of taste-affecting factors fluttering through mine judgmental ears.  That being said, I’m not sure they’ve ever dropped what I would consider a perfect album, although their 54’40 releases are sort of golden years, before the band would become more notably a Joe Haege project.  And It Was High Time to Escape is sort of the bridge to that sound, in my mind somewhat represented by the halfway departure of Joe Kelly’s drums.  According to the narrative I’ve completely made up, Joe Kelly’s intricate kit work was what grounded (or maybe leashed, depending on your perspective) that group to their proggy / math sound.  While Jay Pellici’s drumming hasn’t been a component of some great songs (several on this album), most of the time his additions haven’t sounded as precise as Kelly’s, and I have to believe that directly or indirectly affects the songwriting.  And soon, Haege would start screaming instead of singing.

But that’s all to come during the Polyvinyl years.  It’s High Time, it’s 2003, Haege, regardless of the era, is an amazingly complex lyricist, and the group sets the stage with the instrumental fret workout ‘A Half Life in Two Moments’ before the disc’s front-heavy rush of amazing songs.  Some of these carry over the busy, fleshed out sound of ‘A Word is Only a Picture’ (such as ‘We Still Have Legs,’ one of Kelly’s contributions), both elsewhere Knots cleans it up a bit, tracks like ‘Darling, I’ more patient and processed, allowing for Haege’s poetry to really hit home.  The latter half of the album feels a bit quieter but is no less dramatic, peaking again with ‘That Which Has No Name’ before the perky ‘Played Out for Punchlines’ leads into the swelling and climactic closer ‘Matters from Ashes.’

You could very literally hear the band waggling on the cusp of breaking into a more digestible version of their sound on ‘High Time to Escape,’ which results in an exciting bundle of anthems touched by prog magic that still sounds great these several years later.