Record of the Week: Knowso - Rare Auld Trip / Psychological Garden 12”
Knowso: Rare Auld Trip / Psychological Garden 12” (Drunken Sailor) I feel like I never hear people talking about them, but for me Cleveland’s Knowso is one of the most distinctive and exciting punk bands currently putting out music. Maybe they haven’t caught on because it’s easy to get into the weeds thinking / talking / writing about everything surrounding their music. (Like, for instance, that there are at least three bands—Knowso, Cruelster, and Perverts Again—that share members and sound very similar, or that all of Knowso’s releases feature distinctive artwork from cartoonist Nathan Ward, who seems to be the band’s driving force, handling bass, guitar, and vocals.) However, when I put all of that shit aside, when I just put on this record and listen to it, I am fucking blown away every time. While I’m not 100% confident in my ability to distinguish Knowso, Cruelster, and Perverts Again in a blind taste taste, the sound here is instantly identifiable and utterly distinctive. Just like when you see a red Coke can and you know what it is no matter what language or script “Coca-Cola” is written in, once you hear this nervous, jittery punk with the paranoid-sounding, speak-sung vocals, you know you have landed squarely in this different universe (via Cleveland). And not only is the sound distinctive, it’s fucking great. The rhythms are so precise, creative, and memorable, similar to what bands like Lithics or Fitness Womxn are doing but much tighter, faster, and more confrontational. The riffs are also outstanding, and Knowso has great two-guitar dynamics, something I’m always a sucker for. All of that would make for an excellent band or record, but what pushes Knowso over the top for me are the lyrics. I’ve trained myself to ignore bland and even bad lyrics, but that is not a problem here. Actually, these lyrics are so great that I’m happy to sit and read the lyric sheet without putting the record on. I love lyrics (and other types of word art) that present you with a potent image and just sort of leave it there for you to roll around in your brain. (I’m reminded of an interview with Ian Mackaye where he pointed out the line “the milk bottles stand empty” in Wire’s song “Ex-Lion Tamer,” noting how that image said so little but so much at the same time.) Here are some of my favorite cryptic bits of wisdom: from “Turning Planet,” “Turning planet / I see you spin / a hundred miles in my shoes;” from “Boredom in the Valley,” “Old neighbor in the night car / Gotta sloppy gait when he walk to the car / Two way radio no signal / Ke8dyv.” I love those more cryptic lines, but it’s not just free jazz word salad. “You Lick the Boot” engages with the whole BLM / Defund the Police conversation, while “The Plants” is the environmentalist anthem only Knowso could write. Long story short, the eight songs on this record are modern punk masterpieces. Maybe they’re too weird for you, but they’re everything I want from punk. All hail Knowso.