The Song’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the ear of the king.”
A single can serve a number of functions, one of which is to set expectations—and excitement—for an upcoming album. In the case of Bent Knee’s new “Catch Light,” the single has launched with the accompanying claim that it “marks a drastically new direction for the band.” Just what does “drastically new” mean here, and how excited should we be?
The first sign of novelty appears immediately, in the form of a programmed drum loop. It’s fairly unimpressive as such, but as the palm-muted guitar joins, a groove emerges. There’s just enough going on to provide solid musical ground as Courtney Swain’s vocal enters; “watch as I slip my way into the room,” we are instructed. Sung in a lower register and with a precise control of breath, we encounter a new descriptor for Bent Knee’s music: sultry. One minute in, drums and a ring-modulated guitar (?) erupt, the factory-metallic harshness overlayed on the simple groove giving no warning for what is to come. But Swain’s vocal delivery and the organ stabs punctuating the chorus paint it plain. This is a gospel song. This is indeed something drastically new.
The opening, nondescript groove continues straight through this chorus and into a second verse, now augmented by some truly groovy stick work and formidable bass. The simplicity of the beat itself leaves room for Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth to play some of the hippest drum fills I’ve heard this year. By the chorus’ return, Bent Knee have built something simultaneously raucous and streamlined, only to drop it all for a return to that same programmed loop and a few atmospheric accents. A postlude to any other song, here it preludes a big rock ending that sounds like it would fit right in on Land Animal—someone shouts from the back of the mix, and every instrument aligns for a charge straight down the middle. For the first time on this track, Swain really lets loose her impassioned caterwauls, finally free of the social constraints she’s been singing about.
So, what’s new here? What’s exciting? Bent Knee have nothing to prove, and that proves just how good they are. They’ve already established themselves as one of the premiere progressive bands; after Land Animal and Paper Earth, their music can go anywhere. With “Catch Light,” we know they’re moving forward in that creative freedom, but harnessing all their talent and technology in service of an incredibly crafted song.