Ah, the pleasures of melancholic pop. The Australian three-piece teeters in the brink between nostalgia and aphasia, memory and loss on its aptly titled third album, The Name Rings a Bell That Drowns Out Your Voice. The record offers 11 tracks of ringing chords and starry-eyed lyrics, mid-tempo indie rock that doesn't advance any particular agenda. Here the focus is simply on sharp, memorable and at times gut-wrenching songs.
Part of the nostalgia is as musical as it is lyrical: "Chance Meeting" sounds a lot like Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, the way it plays ostinato guitar lines off harmonic sheets of sound. However unintentionally, singer Wayne's tenor vocals even echo Lee Ranaldo's distinctive monotone. Likewise, "Faces on the Journey" recalls the jangling harmonies and slightly strident delivery of R.E.M. circa Murmur. For anyone who grew up with those bands as the soundtrack to their youth, the songs' very sonics evoke a wistfulness for those days when rock seemed simpler, truer.
Even when they're not explicitly referencing classic indie acts, Knievel know how to craft a song that tugs at the heartstrings. While they're not as prone to extended constructions as Death Cab for Cutie, the Australians share the latter's penchant for chord changes that refuse to resolve and vocal lines that seem perpetually about to float helplessly off into space and crushing solitude.
Their compositions remain simple, and are all built on a standard guitar/drums/bass core (fleshed out with occasional organ and electronics). The band is content to explore the limits of four-bar chord changes instead of indulging in tangential cadenzas. Wayne fronts all the songs, while bassist Tracy chimes in with backing harmonies; his vocals tighten the emotional ropes, sailing as close into the winds of nostalgia as possible.
As with the music, the lyrics choose comfort over experimentalism, fleshing out autobiographical poetics with simple metaphors. The churning "Don't Explain" broaches empathy through helplessness: "Can't sustain the same old pace/ Colour's drained from your face/ Then one day your plans fall through/ A shadow is following you/ I'm the same I know/ I'm flawed don't explain any more."
The title to "We Can Identify" sounds slightly more optimistic, but don't get your hopes up: "This life's a chore/ A slow revolving door," sings Wayne. "We're moving toward the speed of sound/ And still we can't seem to cover ground." Perhaps but the beauty of Knievel is that they make circling in place into an art form, stealing the wind from progress' sails in order to fuel their own interior journeys. It sure beats the aimless, onward rush.