“Children Levitate” is the new lo-fi atom bomb of an indie pop record with elements of punk that would make any Ty Seagull fan happy. Older folk’s and music heads who love the introspection and thought prodding sci-fi bend of T-Rex and Donovan would do well to dive into the latest by Boston’s own Hands & Knees. The twenty-one track record is a Bible of catchy and original songwriting led by Joe O’Brien who also recorded the entire record. It’s clear Joe, Carina, Scott, and Nick are not here to play games with a measly two-song EP. They’re here to fill our cups. Head to the Bandcamp link to have your cup overflow with stories and melodies of quality rock n’ roll music only Hands & Knees can deliver, accept no substitutes.
The title track “Children Levitate” kicks us off with a two-step pump and a Brit-punk rock n’ roll circus is let loose. You can see the army of humans, brains yet to form fully, floating around in chaos.
“Children levitate/sip on lemonade/ride the night train/spider dance again/weird child, you got a junky eye/run wild, borrow it from the sky.”
The next track Stop Time is universally identifiable for anyone who’s been dumped (which is ninety-nine percent of us right?”) summed up with this one line, “You broke my idiot heart.” Equally as heart breaking is the line, “I’m your waste of time/stop time, stop time.” That one makes me want to curl up in a ball in my shower for a day.
The bass bounce and dip of the melody in Gravity is a perfectly Beatles-esque track but with the laid back singing creating the signature mood all over the album. “Started feeling gravity/hated it right away/think I better find a place/up in outer space” are lyrics everyone can identify with. Luckily this tune is here to provide some medicine for those of us that have yet to fulfill our astronaut dreams. I feel okay not orbiting the planet in my private paradise (spacecraft complete with recording studio and bike track) because of this song.
The story in the song Cats That Kill is that of heartbreak. The music though is expansive like light rippling off of a distant moon. Written by Carina Grehnham the sparse hi-hat, kick, snare pocket makes a bed for a simple up-and-back twangy guitar line as the vocal harmony of Carina and Joe whisper and moan with the gentleness of a heart in fear of loss. Pulsing outward and steadily growing louder is a drone of synth and a touch of melodica creating a seriously otherworldly diamond of a tune.
The theme of levitation, albiet in abstract form continues on Makeshift Facelift with lyrics like “I make a space station from objects I find in the street and send it back to you.” From the first bar of the catchy bite of a reverb laden electric guitar melody the groove is solid and malleable simultaneously with some great drum work. The timing of the vocal melody creates an ear worm easy to rock to.
Mr. Mojo has that Bowie Young Americans pump and palette of driving acoustic guitars throughout the piece.
Piano Skate Along brings in some ringing honky tonk piano with lyrics about a potential lover: “you look too nice for the apocalypse.” At this point in the record I’m wondering if Hands & Knees has had a premonition about what’s to come in our collective life, or some information passed down from a time traveller. With a record title like “Children Levitate” my science fiction addicted mind can’t help but wonder if this whole record is a plea or mission to awake a younger generation to the power of music. The strangeness of 2018 seems to have an abstract answer of hope through this album. Or perhaps ‘it’s only rock n’ roll’ as Keith Richards says.
I get my answer in What. Rollicking one-two rock beds the vocals screaming questions throughout the two minute track. It seems whatever divine knowledge this band possesses is how we hear it, abstract. It must be a mad pleasure and pain for Joe O’Brien to write these gems of songs that seem to hold secrets we cannot discern in finite terms. Again though, this is the power of music, no?
Carina’s beautifully-sad vocals in the verses of Lay Down are a great set up for the gang-vocal on refrain. The electric guitars do the heavy lifting on this tune: gritty chords, another with a two note hop, and the feature is some dirty soulful lead work.
The closing ballad is a perfect roll credits bookend to this gargantuan accomplishment by Hands & Knees with their seventh release. Don’t be shy on Bandcamp, this is serious work by serious cats, pay them as you love them!
Full transparency, at times I wince at the “lo-fi” label. Many times to my ears it sounds like bands who go this route are afraid to let their unique timbre ring through the mix by over saturating vocals with overdrive and reverb. Liberal use of this vibe can result in lyrics getting lost and subsequently a memorable story. Not so on this album. Lo-Fi and all it entails was executed with total control and responsibility on “Children Levitate.” The palette of sounds is always part of the story rather than a cop out. Some songs lay into the grit to deliberately take us over the top. And in heart-tugging songs like “Heart of Sequoia” the overdrive comes down and we get the intimate up-close melancholy of O’Brien’s delivery. It’s nice to hear these powers wielded with finesse and intent on “Children Levitate.”