Bent Knee
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Bent Knee

Boston, MA | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | INDIE

Boston, MA | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2009
Band Alternative Rock




"‘Say So’ by Bent Knee Review"

"A welcoming call to music fans who savor the very special. An accusation that there are too many ideas in a work of art is dispelled when they are mostly good ones, as is the case with Bent Knee and 'Say So.'” - Wall Street Journal

"Bent Knee bids for the big time"

Early in December, a clutch of journalists and curiosity seekers from Boston and beyond arrived at the Space, a cozy gallery and concert venue tucked away on a quiet street in Jamaica Plain, to witness a remarkable sight. Bent Knee, a young local sextet, had packed the room on a frigid Saturday night. A disparate mix of friends and devotees, young and old, gathered not just to hear the group’s newly completed third LP played from start to finish, but also to lend their voices to a few climactic choruses. Since the concert was being filmed for potential release, the crowd obligingly sat on the floor.

Said album, “Say So,” resoundingly demonstrated the increasing refinement and confidence of a group that doesn’t quite fit any conventional pigeonhole. Bent Knee’s emphatic crunch and knack for complexity, mixed with lively wit, have aligned it loosely with that most marginalized of genres, progressive rock. Live, the band projects visceral glee, exactingly harmonized and wholly infectious.

Courtney Swain, Bent Knee’s dramatically potent lead vocalist and pianist, delivers emphatic, enigmatic lyrics in a manner that can evoke Björk, Alanis Morissette, or Joanna Newsom while sounding like no one but herself. Vince Welch, the sound designer who shapes and sculpts the group’s performances onstage and in the studio, adds still more shades to an expansive palette: electronica, classic pop, heavy metal, and hip-hop all figure into Bent Knee’s matrix somewhere.

Exactly one month after the show, five band members — Swain, Welch, guitarist Ben Levin, violinist Chris Baum, and bassist Jessica Kion — huddled around a table in a Newbury Street cafe for an interview. Drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth had been done in by travel, his bandmates compensating with tangled narrative threads and oversize ebullience.

They’ve got plenty to be excited about. Thanks in part to Anil Prasad, purveyor of the influential progressive-music webzine Innerviews (, word about Bent Knee has spread well beyond its supportive Boston home base. Having self-released two albums and an EP, the band will issue “Say So” on the venerated US indie Cuneiform Records in May. And while Bent Knee still books its own shows stateside, it recently joined Paperclip Agency — whose roster includes Afrika Bambaataa, Shonen Knife, and Television — to coordinate European touring.


That the cafe is only a few blocks from Bent Knee’s birthplace, Berklee College of Music, is lost on no one. “Recently I realized the first relationship that happened in Bent Knee was not Ben and I, but Ben and Vince,” Swain explains. “They met during summer camp [there].”

“2005,” Levin chimes in from across the table.

“Ben was walking around looking for someone to shred with,” Swain continues, and Vince was shredding. . . .”

“No, Vince looked like a metal guy,” Kion interjects.

“I didn’t have my guitar,” Welch says, shrugging almost audibly.

Here, Levin asserts control, recounting the tale of high-school metalheads from dissimilar parts of the country finding one another at Berklee. Surrounded by jazzers, he recalls, Levin felt like a defiant outlier. Connecting with Welch was the start of a mutually supportive network, as well as a sequence of band projects.

“By the time I got to Berklee, Ben and Vince were roommates and a year ahead of me,” says Swain, who grew up in Japan. A chance encounter brought her into Levin’s orbit; a guitarist devoted to instrumental experimentation met his match in a fearless singer with perfect pitch and keyboard chops. When Welch took up a demo by Swain and Levin for a production-class project, a band coalesced out of necessity.

Baum had connected with Levin when the guitarist’s group shared bills with his own early band, Sing Treason. (“We sounded like Incubus, but we had a violinist, so people were interested,” he deadpans.) Wallace-Ailsworth — like Levin adept at networking in the school cafeteria, according to Swain — signed on one week before Bent Knee recorded its self-titled debut album. Kion joined a week after the LP was completed, earning her stripes on the road.

“The first album was essentially written before anyone else came on board, where Ben and I were doing file-trading,” Swain says. “It was a lot of Portishead and a lot of Björk that was really driving the sound. When we started writing the second album [“Shiny Eyed Babies,” released in 2014], we started experimenting with opening things up to everyone writing and contributing equally.” Levin, by his own description a recovering egomaniac, admits he was slow to embrace that notion.

And now? “Music’s a team sport,” he declares into a reporter’s recorder directly and emphatically, asserting his evolved perspective.

“It’s really hard, because we also have this thing where everyone has to agree 100 percent on an idea,” Swain explains.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Welch interjects. Claiming complete assent, he explains, is a streamlined gloss on a messy process, in which vetoes are deployed strategically.

“It’s a dictatorship based in consensus,” Baum agrees, “because at the end of the day, Vince is producing and mixing our records — and that’s what the songs wind up being.”

Friction? A bit, perhaps. Still, heat generated among moving parts coming into contact is a universal constant. That principle goes a long way toward explaining the creative combustion generated by Bent Knee’s working process, and the unpredictable, potent fusions that result. - The Boston Globe

"BC indie music lovers have a new crush"

Bent Knee of Boston, MA reminded the crowd of the meaning of gobsmacked in their headline performance at the 2014 Campbell Bay Music festival on Mayne Island, BC. A crowd of relatively moderate adults turned into a bouncing, almost head-banging mass when the hard hitting drums, guitar and bass met the soaring violin and the melodramatic vocals of lead singer and keyboardist Courtney Swain.

The words tugged on your heart strings but were never overly precious, though a little dark there was a tinge of irony that kept the crowd smiling. There were epic moments of musical atmosphere highly reminiscent of Radiohead, and Sigor Ros. At times the band created an orchestral feel, and at others they were as hard hitting and dark as Tool.

It was no single element that was so pleasing but rather a merging of professional and emotive playing, with excellent writing, composition, and sound design, topped off with playful charisma from not one, but all six (though we had to pay close attention to notice the production genius, who is the 6th member, hiding on the floor), shining band members.

It is very likely that much of that crowd would not have attended the show if you had described the heavy rock riffs the music featured, yet the end of the set met a desperate plea for multiple encores. The Mayne Island show was part of a tour that saw the 5-year-old band visiting the west coast of Canada and the U.S. for the first time, but given the response it is unlikely to be the last.

Check out their website, which provides links to their music and videos, as well as upcoming shows. - Examiner | Trina McDonald

"Bent Knee - Bent Knee"

Bent Knee sent me a CD in the mail recently, and I was instantly curious. Being described as "Nine Inch Nails with Bjork as the lead singer," I was a bit scared and even a little turned off, but the gorgeous packaging and cryptic press release made me listen. After carefully peeling off the wax seal, I was greeted with much more than a CD. Cryptic poems (I'm assuming lyrics), poured out of the cardboard envelope, printed on semi-transparent paper, along with a pro-printed (not burnt!) CD. I was scared initially by how 'dark' this band seemed to be trying to appear, but I popped it in my CD player and went for a drive anyway.

I was initially met with gated drums, with huuuuge gaps of silence between them. At first, it was all 'dark, industrial' sounding, and I was really starting to sigh, but then the synths, guitars, and strings came in (suddenly), and all of a sudden this album had a certain quality to it that I couldn't quite place my finger on... So I listened onwards.. I was soon met with something rather strange indeed. The music pouring out of my speakers was in fact dark, mysterious, and.. dare I say, beautiful? I was reminded of The Fiery Furnaces, The Mars Volta, Tera Melos, and yes, even Bjork (though if you were to ask me why, all I could say was it had a 'BIG', sound to it). The worst part of this album is that it is criminally short. Personally, I cannot wait to hear more from Bent Knee, and I hope they'll be in Ohio soon. - Olive Music

"Who Does The Best Covers?"

I have to admit that I’m a somewhat inconsistent writer. I do my best, but there are times when I simply feel like I have no idea what’s going on and don’t know how to contribute anything worthwhile.

This is never the case with Bent Knee. When I see a new song come in from them, I jump on it as quickly as humanly possible. Though their covers only roll in sporadically, at a pace of one or two a year (or fewer), the quality and creativeness they bring to every cover is consistently astonishing. I love their covers to the point where, when I start to type the URL for Cover Me into my browser, the first thing it autocompletes with is their band page. Before the homepage, before my login, before anything; that’s what pops up. They’re a young band made up of young people, but their music feels like the work of professionals – not just seasoned professionals, but ones seasoned at the art of ripping your heart out with the bare hands of their art. They are loud and they are soft and they are sometimes creepy (or, as in this Radiohead cover, “Creep”-y), but every single cover they put out is a piece of primal beauty. - Cover Me

"Bent Knee – “Being Human""

Grand, serene, and progressive, I’m loving this track from the forthcoming Bent Knee record, Shiny Eyed Babies. Not only are some of the instrumental passages in the 6-minute monster, “Being Human,” pretty creative, but some of the band’s instrumental builds are unbelievably powerful as well! - The Needle Drop

"The Big List: Best of 2011"

We’re talking full-on cacophony here – a shrieking and wailing banshee, stadium-sized guitar heroics and pounding rhythmic tides. That’s just one of the selections on Bent Knee’s debut album. Vocalist Courtney Swain moves from sweetly sensuous, to dangerous and taunting, to wildly unhinged. Highly experimental and mesmerizing, this Boston avant-garde ensemble has packed an awful lot of sound into their music. - Ryan's Smashing Life

"Bent Knee: Leading You Down The Rabbit Hole One Song at a Time"

The music of Bent Knee comes from another dimension. At least, that is the truth I choose to believe because otherwise their new album Shiny Eyed Babies, to be officially released this fall, would completely shatter my perception of reality. There’s no way human beings can possibly create music that is so strangely absorbing and absolutely incomprehensible at the same time. It’s like that time you watched Un Chien Andalou stoned at your film-major friend’s dorm room–you were pretty sure you were watching a masterpiece but simultaneously sickened by the fact that someone was brilliantly twisted enough to write, direct and edit such a work of grotesque genius.

So yes, Bent Knee kinda scares me, but that’s half the fun of listening to their intricate, avant-garde compositions, music that could easily be mistaken for pretentious had the band not emphasized the ‘rock’ half of ‘art rock’ more than they actually do. “Way Too Long,” for example, is one of the most horrifyingly heavy songs I’ve heard from a non-metal band all year, with its creeping drum beat, spine-chilling plucks from Chris Baum’s violin, and mind-melting vocal distortions courtesy of production man Vince Welch. However, lead vocalist Courtney Swain doesn’t need much distortion to terrify you. Her voice is indeed a wonder, a wonder in the sense that you find yourself wondering, ‘how is this sound coming from a real live person?’ It’s a voice that could have credulously either escaped from the bowels of hell or been banished from the throne of heaven due to unruliness, but whatever its origin, it will leave you, if not speechless, at least much impressed.

Each member has moments to shine on this album, especially drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth on his Neil Peart-like fill assault near the end of song “Dry,” but no one member overtakes any other and each contributes to the music more than to their own personal performances. Shiny Eyed Babies is a dense work of art that could foreseeably turn off the fainter of heart, and at times even I felt overwhelmed by the laborious attention each tune demanded from the listener. But, overall, the experience was rewarding rather than wearisome, with particular highlights including the hypnotic “Skin” and epic “In God We Trust.”

If their live performance is even one-tenth as insane as their studio work, then this Boston-based band’s stop at San Francisco’s Brick & Mortar, supporting Sit Kitty Sit, is one you won’t want to miss. I’ll be there, and desperately hope the band doesn’t take what’s left of my sanity. - The Bay Bridged

"Progressive Rock | Bent Knee - Being Human"

There isn’t a whole lot of information floating around the internet about Bent Knee or their upcoming album Shiny Eyed Babies, but after streaming a few tracks it’s hard to imagine they’ll remain as elusive and unheralded much longer. Their eccentricity is magnetic, bouncing from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other and back again. The album cut “Being Human” showcases the duality that makes them so enthralling. - Auditory Breakfast

"Bent Knee Gets Trashy in Williamsburg"

I'm not a fan of superlatives. But seeing Bent Knee at Trash Bar was one of the best moments of live music I have ever personally experienced. There have been the rad shows in London or EDM-centric spots in Ibiza, but upon true happenstance, an otherwise slow night in Williamsburg, through a somewhat aimless walk down Grand, landed us into what would go down in hipster heaven history of musician transcendence.

The lead singer Courtney Swain is a Broadway star in our eyes — catapulting the audience into somewhat of a Tristan and Isolde opera; her bassist calms her, her half-naked drummer moves her, her guitarist to her right motivates her, and her violinist strumming away with his hands completes her; and then there’s the sound designer on the stage floor who I think may have been on Facebook.

The lyrics aren't immature and their sound is terrifying, emotionally gratifying, and moving. Unexpected is what you expect when you watch Bent Knee go from a cacophonous sound check to literally swaying the crowd in tumultuous fervor. We don't love them, we love the way they make us feel. Small town band from Boston playing in New York City, they may not have made the CMJ 2013 lineup, but in my eyes they already made it (they also played last year’s music marathon). Their sound is angsty and cool. There is nothing counterfeit about this band, and with a multitude of same shit different venue, I leave this show knowing that, no, I'm not as jaded as I had expected. Sadly, their recordings on Bandcamp don’t compare at all to the live show, but in my Sunday night in New York City experience, Bent Knee owned random ass bar in Williamsburg. Take your bow. | Kristyn Potter - Playback:stl

"Listen: Bent Knee – Being Human"

‘Being Human’ is the name of the newest single from Boston-based art rockers BENT KNEE, taken off of their forthcoming album Shiny Eyed Babies.

The young band take the phrase ‘shifting dynamics’ to new extremes, constantly twisting and contorting their sound in new ways, and this new teaser is no different. The track begins delicate and ethereal, before shifting into something much more bombastic. The rhythmic and melodic explorations on the track are completely fresh, creating moody atmospheres trumped by theatrical breakdowns. The album can’t come soon enough. - The Thin Air

"Boston Art-Rockers Bent Knee are 'Obsessed With Sounding New'"

Bent Knee, a self-professed “art-rock” band from Boston, has a flair for the dramatic. When the six-piece ensemble whirls out of contemplative softness into blistering cacophony, it is not for the mere shock of contrast so much as the pleasure of the journey between extremes. Sometimes the ascent is grand, gradual, and complex, and at other times a swift series of solar plexus-aimed hits.

“We see our music as very intricate and weird, with so many layers and thematic elements, kind of very cerebral,” says lead vocalist Courtney Swain, adding, “We are completely obsessed with sounding new.”

Bent Knee (picture above by Zoe Ruth Erwin) began as an electronic, Portishead-esque collaboration between Swain and guitarist Ben Levin, both graduates of Berklee College of Music. When they assembled a live band for a recording project, the new format stuck and eventually coalesced into the group’s current lineup: Levin on guitar, Chris Baum on violin, Jessica Kion on bass and backing vocals, Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth on drums, Vince Welch as producer/sound designer/synth player, and Swain on lead vocals and keys. The group will perform at the Davis Square Theatre in Somerville on July 19 and release their sophomore album, “Shiny Eyed Babies,” on Nov. 11. (Watch a live rendition of Bent Knee’s “Way Too Long” below, and scroll down to view the new video for “Toothsmile.”)

The six musicians, who met at Berklee, did not come together with a specific shared vision. Rather, they pooled their disparate influences through an evolving collaborative songwriting process. Swain, who grew up in Japan, and the Colorado-born Baum both have backgrounds in classical music; on the other end of the spectrum is Wallace-Ailsworth, who was raised on progressive rock bands like Genesis and King Crimson. The music of Bent Knee has a crisp, metallic, prog-rock sheen but depends more upon inventive textural motifs and pop-inflected melodies than blinding displays of virtuosity. There is an intermittent whiff of jazz and the occasional ambient electronic oddity.

“I think we are attracted to the dramatic, in a musical-form-sense anyway. And the dynamic contrast has become very much a signature of the group. I think it’s what makes our live shows stand out, what gets people to come back,” says Baum. “Because a lot of the things that happen are very unexpected compared to what people in the audience are used to. And I think a lot of that comes from the more classical side of our minds—just having this narrative with lots of peaks and valleys, constantly keeping people propelled and on their toes. I think we’re constantly trying to find the middle ground between doing that, but making sure everything fits and feels like a completed idea and vibe, as opposed to just stitched-together bits and pieces.”

Swain’s voice is the lynchpin of the band. She croons excellently but is more comfortable in extreme regions, where the boundaries of comfort are pushed. She likes to propel her voice into a banshee-like quiver, the rock n’ roll answer to opera’s vibrato. In Bent Knee, her singing is often submerged beneath thick sonic strata, but it always manages to pierce through, like a splinter through skin.

“I don’t think I have a conventional voice,” says Swain, who names Bjork, Fiona Apple, and the Japanese singer Shiina Ringo as primary influences. “I’ve tried singing R&B and jazz, and I always feel embarrassed when I do, just because I feel like I don’t have the right voice. And so a lot of my development as a singer has been what’s unique to me. What’s my sound? And what kinds of crazy sounds will come out of me if I really push?”

“Shiny Eyed Babies” is not a concept album, though there does seem to be a thematic thread running through the songs, which Swain describes as “regret.” But Bent Knee might be better characterized as defiant, or at least pissed off; theirs is no bashful, retreating regret. The album begins, oddly, with a sweet piano ballad and a grim subject: “I had a shiny-eyed baby/ That fell out of my womb/ I kissed her hello and I kissed him goodbye/ And that’s how we go from cradle to grave,” sings Swain, sounding for all the world like she is about to launch into a Broadway song-and-dance number. But what happens at the conclusion of the minute-and-a-half-long piece is more jarring still. The bass drum kicks in, followed by the high hat, and then the band unleashes a monstrous roar, at once percussive and dense.

The strongest moments on “Shiny Eyed Babies” are the result of contrasting, cleverly-executed variations on a single theme. “In God We Trust,” for example, is built around a wistful little finger-picked fiddle riff that morphs into a grandiose, propulsive symphony. “Dead Horse” begins with a buoyant electro-pop motif that shifts, with nimble alacrity, into wave upon wave of explosive, polyrhythmic crescendos.

“I think we’re very focused on a concept of a song. So one person will bring in the idea or the kernel of the song, and then we’ll spend a long time discussing how to best depict that story through music,” explains Swain. “And then it’s just a lot of talking and working out ideas with everyone until we’re all completely happy behind every decision that’s in the piece. I think that’s one of the interesting parts of our band, where we would never vote on a musical decision. It always has to be a consensus.”

If consensus is the basis of Bent Knee’s process, then it is that ineffable realm where six personalities intersect that gives the music its particular character, and its shiny-eyed newness.

“From a personal standpoint, I really enjoy making music that is accessible but has a lot of depth to it,” says Baum. He uses a pickup and a laptop rig, experimenting with versatile effects to create gleaming, ethereal soundscapes. “The approach to the instrument needs to be different if you’re amplified,” he explains. “You can’t play an acoustic guitar like an electric guitar, and the same goes for violin.”

In many ways, Baum’s playing exemplifies the band’s approach: in uncharted territory, there are no signs pointing the way, only well-trod paths that lead to the point of departure. Sweeping through this wild country, Bent Knee is as apt to freefall into inky blackness as to be catapulted, suddenly, towards the heavens. - WBUR's The ARTery


Say So | 2016 from Cuneiform Records
Shiny Eyed Babies | 2014 self-released
Bent Knee | 2011 self-released



Bent Knee is a band without frontiers. The Boston-based group seamlessly connects the worlds of rock, pop and the avant-garde into its own self-defining statement. On its Cuneiform debut release Say So, the band focuses on the sound of surprise. It’s rock for the thinking person. The group’s lyrics are dark and infused with themes focusing on the emergence of personal demons, unwanted situations and the difficulty of conquering them. Its mercurial sound matches its subject matter. It’s a thrilling aural roller-coaster ride with arrangements designed to make listeners throw their arms up in wild abandon as they engage with them.

“Say So resoundingly demonstrates the increasing refinement and confidence of a group that doesn’t quite fit any conventional pigeonhole, with emphatic crunch, a knack for complexity, mixed with lively wit,” said Steve Smith of The Boston Globe. “Live, the band projects visceral glee, exactingly harmonized and wholly infectious.”

Founded in 2009, Bent Knee is a true collective. The band operates as a democratic entity with sky-high standards and a determination to push boundaries. Frontwoman and keyboardist Courtney Swain’s acrobatic, multi-octave vocals are nothing less than extraordinary. Guitarist Ben Levin morphs between the hauntingly melodic and extreme, dissonant sonics—sometimes within a single verse or passage. Bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth deliver deep and thunderous grooves, full of engaging, intriguing ornamentation. Violinist Chris Baum’s driving melodic overlays and atmospheres further take the band’s sound into wild territory. And all of it is brilliantly processed and produced by sound designer Vince Welch.

Band Members