The Knells - The Knells
The self-titled debut from The Knells (a new ensemble formed by composer/guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee) featuring Mivos String Quartet and more, was released in November, 2013 on New Amsterdam Records.
The Knells is a grand statement of purpose coming from Brooklyn-based artist Andrew McKenna Lee. A seasoned performer and composer who has showcased his talents in esteemed venues including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Lee created The Knells to be a working reconciliation of the multitude of different musical styles he has absorbed: as a rock guitarist who has performed alongside legends Billy Idol and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones; as a singer/songwriter; as a serious concert music composer; and — as he is most widely known — a classical guitar virtuoso.
The Knells is the name of both Lee’s adeptly-composed hour-long song cycle as well as the hybrid ensemble Lee assembled to perform the project, consisting of three stunning female vocalists (Nina Berman, Amanda Gregory, Katya Powder), dual electric guitars (Andrew McKenna Lee, Paul Orbell), drums (Michael McCurdy), mallet percussion (Jude Traxler), electric bass (Joseph Higgins), and the critically lauded Mivos String Quartet. Blending Renaissance polyphony, symphonic lieder, jazz, classic and progressive rock, and even ‘60s Motown vocal music, The Knells finds Lee expanding his creative scope, embracing many of the stylistic streams that have come to define modern song in a remarkably cohesive and unique experience.
Lyrically, The Knells pays homage to the classic idea of the thematic “concept album,” and examines some of the personal and eternal questions that define and confound the human search for meaning and significance. In service of this overarching theme, The Knells confronts such specific ideas as one’s perception of the passage of time, the illusive nature of progress, the power of perspective in deriving meaning from one’s own life, and the circular and ultimately transcendental – if somewhat violent – beauty of nature.
Sonically, The Knells finds Lee employing a veritable armada of instruments, sounds, and ideas to explore the wide dynamic range of the amplified ensemble. Softer chamber music passages for strings, bowed percussion, and quiet guitars frequently contrast with louder, more rhythmically driven passages. The constant throughout is a trio of female vocalists that deliver hypnotic incantations - sometimes homophonically, and at other times in complex contrapuntal arrangements.
The Knells was chosen for the title of the project for its connotations of sound (i.e. the ringing of a bell), its associations with death, and the way these two elements play into the overall fabric of the work. This interplay is further enhanced by the album artwork, which was designed by renowned artist Shepard Fairey. Overall, the album is an adventurous and rewarding exploration of the sounds and significance of the world around us.
Previously, Lee has released two commercial recordings. His debut release on New Amsterdam Records, Gravity and Air, was named one of the year’s “Top Ten Best Classical Albums” of 2009 byTime Out Chicago. Released the same year, Solar/Electric also met with critical praise, most notably from composer Steve Reich, who declared Lee’s realization of his work Electric Counterpoint, “a magnificent performance beautifully recorded.”
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