Review Summary: Racket and daydreams, this time.
Crash of Rhinos' arrival on the UK emo scene was a much-needed jolt, a remarkably fresh-sounding debut that thrilled from the initial listen. Distal
was a house party, an open invite to raise a racket, to spill drinks, to laugh with joyous abandon. These lads yelled their worries away with an arm slung around your shoulder, coaxing you to let loose with the same. Despite being an emo band, they flaunted the same uproar and camaraderie as Japandroids and Titus Andronicus, raising fists with anthemic fervor. Yet their rallying cries disregarded any definite message, instead favoring pure release in endearingly naive slogans - "I have a future in failing!" being the most memorable. For those that met the cue to scream along, this record became much-loved and incessantly welcoming.
In presenting Knots
, I'm tempted to say "this is growing up" or another cliché, because this is a far more contemplative record. Crash of Rhinos now ruminate over their troubles instead of casting them away in cathartic jams. This new demeanor is thoughtfully eased into: "Luck Has a Name" initiates the album in typical fashion, a frenzied kick-start of dizzying chords and tumbling percussion, yet the bridge subdues activity to near-stillness. Where the band once descended into melodic passages for breathing space, they now hold their exhales, lingering in reflection until the clamor is but a hazy memory. It's a risky change for a band whose debut succeeded by its commotion, and marks Knots
with the burden of compensation. Fittingly then, they've stepped up both instrumentation and lyricism. The album title is as good an indicator as any: intricate knots interlace throughout, guitar interplay that dizzies the mind and lulls into daydreams; the words outline desires and complications, knots we tie and break in human relationships. Appreciation of these aspects is key to enjoyment of this record, as is breaking the mindset that Distal
impressed. That’s the best lead I can offer for those that are currently on the fence regarding Knots
Those that lie on the favorable side will surely echo that the guitar weaving is remarkable. The math influence is clear, yet its presence is surprisingly friendly: gentle braids form in the descent from commotion, leading to melodic intertwining that casts the listener into reverie. "Standards & Practice" highlights this in its seven-minute slow burn: the initial passage is off-kilter, looping through a tricky time signature, but it eventually subdues to calm resolve. The daydream lingers as distortion builds from the back of the mix, yet there's no climactic moment – a lone guitar shifts through a closing progression at the track's end. This holding back defines the mood of Knots
, particularly in its second half. The mid-tempo rockers at the forefront of the record are forceful, however. "Opener" is led by a gruff, drunken ramble that is quite awful but weirdly engrossing, the equivalent of watching an intoxicated friend make a passionate fool of himself. You'll stand awkwardly at the side to start, but by the time the chorus arrives you're a believer, eventually raising your glass to the pub-gathering finale of "we're in this together! we're in this together!"
But the highlight of the first half of the record, and possibly Knots
as a whole, is "Interiors." A jarring vocal break sets off whirling, uplifted guitars as striking drum fills steer the track in motion. It's the vocal approach that leaves the greatest impression though: Crash of Rhinos present themselves as a collective voice in the most literal sense, every band member granted the freedom to shout along. Their Bandcamp profile even lists "five voices" as a component of their sound, right next to their instrumental set. "Interiors" finds delight in dual harmonies, interjections, gang releases – the joy of participation. They crowd the room to tell tales of domestic frustration, striking stances with "you're looking as tired as the paper on these walls!" and "take the covers off of me!" Every playthrough finds the ear drawn to a different hook, lending the track an addictive quality. And it satisfies enough that the shift into the musing back end of the record is received with few reservations.
establishes Crash of Rhinos as a singular act after a debut that could be tallied with its influences. It might not be as fun as Distal
, but what is lost is made up for in accomplished songwriting, captivating rumination, and the most affectionate math play I've witnessed in a while. The reward is gradual, but to stick with this record is to see the doubts gratifyingly unravel.