The origins of the story of The Knells goes back in May seven years ago when composer and guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee went on an eight hour hiking expedition at the Joshua Tree National Park. According to Sid Smith's review in PROG Magazine back in 2014, Lee took some inspirations on his iPod by listening to three albums; U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. This was where Andrew was about to take these ideas and his next approach of a musical project which would become you guess it….The Knells.
Four years ago, they’ve released their sole self-titled debut album and that was where I discovered their music thanks to Sid Smith’s Podcasts from the Yellow Room and it was number one on his top 20 albums in PROG Magazine. And that was where I needed to check this band out. Now, whenever I would listen to his podcasts, I know something that might perk my ears right up by discovering not just the big names, but showing support to the little guy and peaking my interest.
Four years later, The Knells are back with a follow up with a second album entitled, Knells II. It shows not just the progressive influences, but chamber pop, psychedelic, and operatic vocalizations. And five enduring highlights that you might want to take note and show much Andrew McKenna Lee has come a long way. With Bargaining, Andrew’s guitar takes you through these structures and going up into its fantasy side as if it’s opening up a structure of an illustrated glacier.
You can tell it’s his nod to Rush’s opening atmospheric track Xanadu from their fifth studio album, A Farewell to Kings as Andrew channels the styles of Alex Lifeson’s guitar in this 2-minute instrumental. You can also close your eyes on Poltergeist. Imagine yourself being in the Steampunk-era as it begins in the early part of the 20th century. Heavier riffs, steel working pulse rhythms as you dig deeper, deeper, and deeper into the center of the heart of the Earth’s core.
The song, Could You Would You deals with the difficult decisions and finding courage as the vocals of Nina Berman, Charlotte Mundy, and Blythe Gaissert blend very well together as a team on their arrangements. It brings to mind the essence of the Northettes which were Canterbury-sque between Barbara Gaskin (Spirogyra), Ann Rosenthal (Hatfield and the North), and Amanda Parsons (National Health).
I also love how there’s this click-clacking sounds between the percussions and the drum patterns between Jude Traxler and Jeff Gertz creating this Italian Western vibe of the late ‘60s with Sub Rosa. There’s this galloping rhythmic vibe as if Clint Eastwood’s character, The Man with No Name is coming back after retirement and do one last showdown before final dying breath.
Pat’s sliding guitar and Andrew himself channel the intense scenario on what will Clint’s character will think of next before his heart gives out to him. Not only that, but it’s a nod to the Spaghetti Western scores of that era honoring the maestro, Ennio Morricone. And then we come to the opener, First Song. With the introductive track, there’s this backward guitar improvisation through a reverse tape before the volume increases as The Knells show a little nod to Moulettes’ music, but with a psychedelic adventure for a brief second towards the void.
As I’ve mentioned earlier in my review. The Knells have come a long, long way. It’s now my third and fifth listen to their second album and it is back for another journey with Andrew McKenna Lee’s project once more. Knells II is not just an impressive release this year, it’s all here with; Chamber Pop, Minimalism, Progressive, and Psychedelic approaches.
It is stirring, raw, and powerful. And that in my opinion, will keep the Knells’ spark growing inside of your pocket for many years to come and knowing what Andrew will think of next as it grows brighter and brighter to see what brainstorming ideas he will have next.