On Anti- for their second album, Traineater, the avant-rock collective Book of Knots gets even wilder and more ambitious than they were on their uncompromising self-titled debut. Where The Book of Knots was inspired by the seaside towns in which members Joel Hamilton and Matthias Bossi grew up, Traineater explores the corroded chassis of the American rust belt, possibly because Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu (the definitive Midwestern experimental punk band) is also a member. Traineater's portrait of the rust belt is not at all sentimental; instead, it crafts a landscape of hulking metal skeletons, buildings that are purely functional, and humble, largely hidden tools of industry and transport. This time the group's sound is more eclectic, welding together elements of free jazz, noise, metal, and Americana to complete their vignettes, and the cast of collaborators is just as wide-ranging. Some blend into Traineater's sonics seamlessly: Zeena Parkins' electric harp adds a subtle, prickly intensity to several songs, while Doug Henderson's aural manipulation piece "Walker Percy Evans High School" ties into the more abstract feel of the interlude by the Book of Knots' core members, "Hands of Production." Other collaborators are unmistakable: Carla Bozlulich's unmistakable rasp holds its own among the caustic noise/metal/jazz of "View of the Water Tower," which opens Traineater with one of the album's most overtly challenging moments. Likewise, the rusted industrial spiritual "Pray" is indelibly a Tom Waits track -- gruff vocals, junkyard percussion, and all -- and David Thomas' creaky voice makes the spooky fable "Red Apple Boy" even spookier. Even more so than The Book of Knots, Traineater is highly theatrical. Jon Langford, who contributed the brilliant "Back on Dry Land" to the Book of Knots' debut, takes the lead on "Boomtown," a much more elaborate and conceptual piece. Mike Watt's largely spoken word "Pedro to Cleveland" and Rick Moody's "Hewitt-Smithson," a spiraling study of self-loathing in a glass-making plant, also make Traineater feel as much like performance art as an album. Many of the album's most musical songs feature core BOK member Carla Kihlstedt at the helm. "Traineater" itself is a standout: an elegy for a furnace on its final train ride, Kihlstedt's empathetic vocals make it subtly, hypnotically beautiful. She lets it rip on "Salina," a plea for escape driven by her keening singing and violin. Though Traineater's second half isn't quite as strong as its first, the album is powerful, telling stories of strength and despair against a rusted backdrop. Like Skeleton Key, Tin Hat Trio, Pere Ubu, and the other projects the Book of Knots' members are involved with, this album is equal measures challenging and listenable, and entirely fascinating.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares