Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Knapsack ‎– This Conversation Is Ending Starting Right Now (1998)

Boasting a slightly sharper production (courtesy once again of Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino) and more desperate sound than its predecessor, Knapsack's third album sounds like what it was - a great band making their somewhat angry final record. Criticized for sameness in the past, Knapsack attempts to stretch out a bit more on This Conversation, with some degree of success. Ultimately, though, what made people like the band was what the band delivered: straightforward, no frills emotional rock. While certainly not groundbreaking, they did it remarkably well.
Josh Modell

It's easy to reminisce upon days you never lived. To look back upon the memories you never experience, and even tell stories of the life you never lived. I know I'm guilty of it, aren't we all? And while I'm far from a habitual liar, I like to think I was a child of 90's emo music. I'm not, at all. I feel a much stronger affinity towards those emotional 90's masterpieces In the Aeroplane Over The Sea and Either/Or than I do towards Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Superunknown, or the grunge movement. Needless to say, as much as I wish it weren't the case, I was a giddy child meeting the Backstreet Boys (Yes, I met them; and this is a judgement-free-zone, right?) while Knapsack was busy releasing a seminole record in third-wave emo music. A testament to the powers of emotional lyrics and parallel guitars driving a record forward rather than louder, more abrasive instrumentation, This Conversation Is Ending Starting Nowis a too beautiful record to be overlooked as often as it is. 

Highly melodic, This Conversation Is Ending Starting Now is Knapsack's third and final record. The pinnacle of their short-lived career, the record is highly melodic, as the hypnotizing guitar riffs are the main draw of the record. Each song is sounds fresh as can be, even after we're opening it up from the vault over a decade later. "Katherine The Grateful" is a romping, fast-paced example of this quality on full display. The percussion often follows suit ("Arrows To The Action," doubles as a catchy single and a furious display of subtle percussion), as it manages to go from the forefront of the performance to a softer backbone to lean on in the blink of an eye. Everything from the bass to the guitar to the drum is very tight and well-produced, as is expected from a producer such as Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino, the indie-rock is fitting and cohesive. The aspect that surely set Knapsack apart, though, is Blair Shehan's vocals. You may have heard his later work as vocalist on The Jealous Sound, but nowhere else do his whispery screams feel so at home as they do one This Conversation Is Ending Starting Now. Emotional and heartfelt, his voice is what sets apart Knapsack from both contemporaries or predecessors. It's certainly not the most talented voice in the world, but the raw yet crystal clear style is what my personal affinity for Knapsack revolves around. His whispers that abruptly erupt into all-out screams are an enticing burst of energy that prompt the listener to join in, and the lack of pretension or cliche in the lyrics (I mean seriously: read that damn title, not too clever, but clever enough) make you believe in what you're singing, too. 

Yes, it's been done before in more exciting and groundbreaking fashion. To be honest Knapsack doesn't offer a whole lot new to the palate of the emo aficionado, but it does something more than that: it makes you like it. This Conversation Is Ending Starting Now is a record that's an incredibly catchy, likable version of an experience most people shove aside as daunting, and Knapsack at its best is an experience to cherish within itself.

I'm sure a fair amount of you enjoy, or at least are familiar with the band The Jealous Sound. You may or may not know that lead singer Blair Shehan had a band prior to The Jealous Sound, that band was Knapsack, and this is their finest work.

Their career as a band spanned only a meagre three albums, but the talent and cohesiveness of this band can't be measured in the number of albums in their catalog. Because of the success of the Jealous Sound, Knapsack are often overlooked, but this album will let you know exactly why they're not a band to be cast over.

The place that Knapsack really draws you in is with Shehan's voice. It's a talented voice, but at the same time something you feel like you can sing every word along with. It's honest, and it's strong, and unique in a way you don't find with many indie rock bands on the scene today. The voice is something you can find yourself identifying too, and that's how the lyrics are tied in as well. It grabs you as soon as you hear it, and takes you on a ride throughout the albums duration. The sincerity of Shehans voice puts every listener in a place where they understand what this music is about. The lyrics are intelligent, without ever being pretentious or cliché. "The shake of the shame, But it hangs around your name, for the first time you're afraid, And you take what they left, choke on their success, but you're nothing anyway."

The musicianship is tight, and cohesive. The guitar isn't too complex, the drumming isn't exceptional, and the bass isn't overpowering, but it all just fits. Knapsack have even incorporated some quite uncommon instruments into this record, including sleigh bells and an organ. These instruments fell right at home in the music, they don't feel forced as some bands do. The main problem with bands like this is usual feeling of "haven't I heard this song before?" "No," is the answer here. With the added incorporation of a cello, and a violin, there's enough distinction between each song to keep things interesting. Clocking in at around 30 minutes, you won't find yourself having to skip anything here.

This is solid, straightforward indie rock at it's very finest. Music you'll be humming and singing along to as long as your CD will last you. Standout songs are "Katherine The Grateful," "Cinema Stare," and "Change Is All The Rage."

If you enjoy bands such as the Jealous Sound, Rival Schools, Far, and Benton Falls, this is something you'll be doing yourself a favor to purchase.

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