There’s a sweetness inherent in the name Bent Knee … a marriage proposal on bent knee, an apology on bent knee, Prince Charming holding the glass slipper on bent knee. But all that sweetness goes out the window when Courtney Swain starts singing “I Don’t Love You Anymore.”
A song that starts with what might be a sweetly melancholic keyboard line quickly turns hard when the guitar razors in for room and her sneering voice intones, “Turn up the music as you’re crying in your room / Drown out the fighting of the bride and groom / Caught in between they both think you’re on their side / But you’re just waiting for the shouting to subside.” Swain throws out accusatory “you” bombs that shred like shrapnel. Maybe at this point, you’re still waiting for the music to soften, but instead it gets even more driving, and you know Swain’s just coiled up and waiting for the next opportunity to attack. If the direction of the music is confusing, there’s no mistaking what Swain means when she says, “I don’t love you anymore.” Some of the music, like the strings on “After Years of Love,” seems like it could be lovey-dovey, but then, again, there’s Swain singing about pouring her memories down the drain, and ripping into your chest to stop the pulse. That glass slipper has become a dagger.
Boston’s Bent Knee formed in 2010 and is touring both coasts this year as they work on their sophomore album. The band has been compared to Nine Inch Nails led by Bjork-like vocals, and that’s not an unfair comparison in that they have a theatrical side. But it’s more like The Sugarcubes’ arty guitar rock than Bjork’s solo dance music. And it seems more dangerous. That glass dagger is both beautiful and menacing. Along with the other handful of performers, Swain’s partner in crime is Ben Levin. Together, they’re an unpredictable yet insanely talented pair that brings in experimental sounds and orchestrations that make you feel safe, along with a dynamic range that leaves you reeling close to the edge.
Bent Knee plays with A((wake)), Bad Luck Blackouts and Explode-A-Tron 8:30 pm Saturday, March 23, at WOW Hall; $12 adv., $15 door.