A year and a half ago, I heard a band called Knives for the very first time, who at that point had just released their debut single “Give Me Air” – an intense rap-rocker that had me hooked from its opening notes. Three months passed by and “Give Me Air” found itself in my top 10 songs of 2016; three more months passed and a full-length, Boy Thursday, followed. Meanwhile, frontman Mr. J. Medeiros grew busy with his other project AllttA (a joint venture with legendary French producer 20syl that landed on a few of our 2017 year-end lists), releasing a full-length and also an EP last year. With that, Knives – along with their debut – disappeared for a while, before resurfacing as thebandknives just a couple of months ago. Now, the 10-track LP is back up as Knives, just over a year after its initial release.
The first thing immediately apparent on Knives is the guitar presence, notable right away from the dissonant riff echoing in the distance to open the album. Rowdy guitars stay in the forefront for much of “Property,” setting a remarkable precedent for the rest of the album, one that is continuously met track after track. There’s an eeriness to the chord progressions and delay effects exhibited throughout, particularly on cuts like the fierce “Fine Print,” the ominous “Boy Thursday,” and the dominant 1-2 punch of “Exit” and “Holy Toast” that closes out the record. Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello will no doubt come to mind for many, but there’s a certain uniqueness that keeps this from being a simple rehash of his sound.
The guitarwork is the flashiest element on Knives, but thebandknives’ sound is much more than just guitars, from the vicious bass modulations that drive “Give Me Air,” to the tight drumwork that really shines through on the faster cuts like “Sucker Punch” and “X’s and O’s,” to the crushing electronics sprinkled over top that really push the intensity into the next stratosphere on tunes such as the closer.
Vocally, Medeiros employs a variety of deliveries. His preferred method, a hybrid of rapping and yelling that often rivals RATM’s own Zack de la Rocha, fits the instrumentation rather well. He even enlists Suicidal Tendencies’ Mike Muir for an added level of aggression on the blazing “X’s and O’s.” At points, however, Medeiros steps into more melodic territory by singing on parts like the chorus of “Property” or the bridge of “Fine Print,” adding another dimension to thebandknives, one untouched by de la Rocha.
Of course, a band of this sonic persuasion often has political overtones, and thebandknives is no exception. Lyrically, Medeiros is at the most urgent he’s ever been, an urgency I would argue is more prominent than any of his other projects (past or present) combined. While the band provides the fiery backbone, he offers up pointed diatribes directed at some of America’s fundamental flaws, with lines like “they fuck you in the fine print,” “all you see is crime,” and “Americans believe in a savior, is it in our heritage or in our behavior?”
Overall Knives is a fantastic record, especially for being their debut, but the album’s best moments are stacked at its bookends. “Property” and “Fine Print” serve as the perfect blend of intensity and melody, while the seamless flow of “Exit” and “Holy Toast” ends things in an incredibly memorable fashion.
thebandknives is the roaring rap-rock of Rage Against The Machine, the chaotic leanings of Glassjaw, the eerie melodies of Deftones, and the dirty electronics of more recent times, all at once. Medeiros’ impassioned narrative pairs nicely with the band’s raucous soundscapes; meanwhile, the subtle melodies and brilliant dissonance are not at odds but rather in tandem with one another. Knives is controlled madness and yet at the same time unbridled ferocity, with a sense of urgency and conviction not frequently tapped into.