Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No Knife Cuts through the Haze

On the suggestion of a reader, I had been listening to Riot for Romance for about a week and a half with sort of glazed-over indifference.  Certainly, I found their dual-guitar math-rock leanings appealing, but on a shallow listen, No Knife’s 2002 release shows its age.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad time in music: long-suffering bands from the late 90s were finally finding their voice on independent labels and audiences through digital conduits.  Many of these bands were likable enough, but superficially there was an omnipresent Jimmy Eat World aesthetic whitewashing the indie rock scene, and although I was hearing it on Riot for Romance, I knew I was still skipping across its surface.

My present-day indifference, however, seemed to belie the suspicion that the album had something deeper going on, a suspicion fueled by my adoration of this track.

Last Friday, though, I was primed to jump into the deep end.  Later in the evening than it should have been, I had just seen that last student get in their parent’s car and drive off from our annual “Band-O-Rama” event.  Wrangling over two hundred inexperienced band students (beginners, even!) through a high school halftime show is an impossibly overstimulating game of Whack-A-Mole.  I was exhausted and relived to have navigated the whole thing with only a relatively small amount of confusion and frustration.  I felt like I was in “middle school band director” mode all day long, though, and that persona takes some energy to sustain. By the time I lumbered to the car, I had held my face in that position for so long that I felt strangely disassociated with my everyday existence.  On the ride home, Riot for Romance cut right through this identity haze.

Lead vocalist Mitch Wilson often put guts above nuance in the singing department, giving the impression that No Knife has no small amount of angst to get out.  Overall, though, they had a distinctive intellectual precision that clearly distanced them from their punk or emo contemporaries.  The band seemed to be less concerned with writing clever hooks than they were with creating memorable songs using angular and sometimes atonal dual guitar riffs.  This concept permeates Riot for Romance.

With its deliberate yet defiant aesthetic, No Knife was a welcome sound after playing the role of the unwavering moral icon for the entire day.  I would not stoop to melodrama and say that Riot for Romance helped me find myself, but as an album, it sunk its teeth into me that evening and has not let go yet.  Truthfully, I can’t imagine how I missed it before.  No Knife are smart, catchy, energetic, and just edgy enough to remind you that there is always an establishment to rail against – even if you are part of it.

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