31Knots' early releases were all about instrumentation. Joe Haege's intricate guitar riffs, matched with constantly climbing bass lines and impeccable drumming, signaled a new incarnation of progressive rock—one more introspective than extravagant, more indie rock than intergalactic.
With the last few records, the band have slowly sloughed off complex fret play in favor of theatrical, jaunty loops, with Haege often abandoning his guitar in concert for a laptop, leaving him free to execute flailing, dangling dance moves as he sings. Though the theatrics are entertaining, the band remain at their best when they're pushing themselves technically rather than creating hypnotic carnival jingles. Thankfully, Worried Well finds a comfortable middle ground. "Strange Kicks" is built on a seesaw piano loop but never becomes monotonous, breaking into guitar solos and stomping chant-alongs; "Opaque" has a riff that would have fit nicely on the Yes album Relayer. Standout cut "Compass Commands" finds the perfect balance between the two, utilizing loops, scaling riffs, and a musical break during which conductor Haege quizzes an all-female chorus on "The universal rule of thumb: Kill or be killed." Though generally cohesive from song to song, there is one black sheep on the record, "Upping the Mandate," whose synthesized melody and beat would make more sense with Pharrell on the mic than Haege.
The scope of Worried Well is wide but focused, a marked improvement from their previous scatterbrained release, The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere. They are a band constantly fine-tuning and reinventing their sound, but always creating songs that may require several listens to fully grasp. Worried is well worth the attention.
31 Knots play Wed Sep 10, Sunset Tavern, 9 pm, $7, 21+. With sBACH, Capillary Action, and Quadrillion.