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Kneebody: Anti-Hero (Motéma)

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Kneebody: "Anti-Hero"
Kneebody: “Anti-Hero”

Has Kneebody run its course? After 16 years, it sure sounds like it. The acoustic-electric rock-jazz quintet’s ninth studio album, Anti-Hero, is a muddy, joyless affair. More so than ever before, Kneebody has become ambitiously anthemic—going for arena-rock blast above all else—but this time the abrasively bombastic nature of the music overshadows any hint of fun.

It’s as though trumpeter Shane Endsley, saxophonist Ben Wendel, keyboardist Adam Benjamin, bassist/guitarist Kaveh Rastegar and drummer Nate Wood felt they needed to outdo themselves. Anti-Hero is full of harsh edges, plodding rhythms, over-echoed electric piano, fuzzy synths, fat bass, grungy guitar and emotionless horns. The six-minute title track and the 12-minute “Drum Battle” are polar opposites in attitude—the former a deliberate midtempo rocker, the latter a maniacal drum-’n’-bass workout—but they are equally lifeless. Throughout, the simple rock beats get tiring, from the lackluster opener, “For the Fallen,” to the pop-song emulations “The Balloonist” and “Mikie Lee” to the closer, “Austin Peralta,” a tribute to the late pianist.

The most likable song is the subtlest (and shortest)—the three-minute “Carry On,” which contrasts an undulating Fender Rhodes motif with jungle-style drumming and processed trumpet with straight-ahead sax. Kneebody should have gone for more such juxtapositions. It’s difficult to find much enjoyable about Anti-Hero, even after a dozen listens. On the other hand, one of the tunes was apparently inspired by the debate over net neutrality, so what should we expect?

Originally Published