Sunday, 8 March 2020

Kneeling Knave ‘Skin Presence’ C-30 (Chondritic Sound)

In addition to curating the active Altered States Tapes label, Melbournian Cooper Bowman fuels the creative components of his label with his lo-fi techno work as Roman Nails, and brooding industrial project Kneeling Knave.

‘Skin Presence’ is Kneeling Knave’s first release since 2017, further distancing the project from the monotonal synthesizer-shaped rhythmic industrial at its origins – but not forgetting them. While tracks such as the title track and “Stamina” still work that familiar blinking pulse, much of ‘Skin Presence’ builds with a more sophisticated use of rhythm. “Clinician’s Perspective” encourages an almost Calypso-like drum machine beat to meet its otherwise minimal synth pulse, and “Guerrilla Logic” pieces together its rhythm from fragments of piano, synth thud, junk clatter and an irregular gated noise. Both would be deeply flawed in the wrong hands, but each walks the tightrope to keep to ‘Skin Presence’’s centrally dour mannerism.

Outside those deeper rhythmic constructs “A Failing System” layers a simple metronome click with carefully laid tones which flicker in and out of synchronisation, and “Derange Or Damage” builds haunting tonal fluctuations with a siren-like insistency giving only the lightest metre to the piece. The willing development of both tonal and rhythmic constructs is the path to closer “House” which takes the cassette’s development to its farthest, the finale verging on electronica with its blissed-out swells of soft tones and coordinated percussive patterns.

While ‘Skin Presence’ uses Cooper’s gruff vocals to anchor the work to the power electronics/industrial idiom, a technique which weights even those tracks most sparsely impacted, “House” deserts that feature to add a few more paces between it and Kneeling Knave’s thudding beginnings. Like all of ‘Skin Presence’ “House” is measured in its pace and cautious – even reluctant – in its presence, the genre dissipation still leaving plenty of identifiers which keep “House” tied to Kneeled Knave’s sterner moments.

The gap between releases may not have yielded an abundance of new material, but what’s here is an increased confidence in straying beyond the borders of the early industrial influences which feed Kneeling Knave. As a glimmer at the end of an otherwise sombre experience, “House” gives only a small swipe of colour to an otherwise intentionally dreary experience. That final uplift to ‘Skin Presence’ hints at possibilities to broaden Kneeling Knave’s experimental musical reach, but whether that would work on a wider scale while keeping the project genre-grounded, is for another time.

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