The line between music and mere sound is more fine than many are ready to admit. Take birdsongs reverberating between trees, the pop-crack of gravel beneath your car’s tires, the rhythm of a lover’s breath and heartbeat as they sleep beside you—it’s all music with melodies and harmonies, beat and rhythm and repetition, though inconsistent, irregular, lawless.
The same could be said about Cincinnati, OH’s Nice Knees, whose music resides in that disorienting, beautiful space between sound and structured song. The solo project of songwriter Bell Cenower, Nice Knees seems to undermine dichotomies; somehow, her songs feel retro and avant garde, intentional and accidental, tidy and disheveled. The result is an ambiance that feels natural, neutral, human despite the drum machines and synths and samples.
Whereas 2017’s Falling Into Sand feels like a feverish dream—a dark dance club after last call, breathless and restless, hair stuck to your slick forehead, the music evaporating into primitive pulses and swells—Cenower’s latest release Blue Mirror feels like its residue upon waking. Track like “Athena Whine (Exit Song)” are all air, all breath, what’s left of a song we know but don’t remember; we must rely on a synthesizer's dogged bassline, hopping and dipping and sometimes disappearing, to keep track of the beat. A steadier rhythm stutters through “Backout,” though shards of sound slice across the song, glints of light that obscure the gummy, meandering guitar for just long enough for us to forget about the song’s structure and enjoy the energy. Cenower’s quiet voice echoes through these tracks, quiet and indistinct and draped in delay, so that her melodies become just another sound slipping past.
It’s this abandon that makes Blue Mirror such a mesmerizing record. We may try to keep track of the kaleidoscopic patterns cascading past each other on “Weekend Fun” or the melody wandering through the opening title track—we may even try to hum along to Cenower’s encrypted poetry—but it’s an idle endeavor, as impossible as trying to whistle in time with the crickets at dusk or match a copy machine’s cadence. Because, here, Cenower has released another album meant to blur the already fine line between music and mere sound, using noise and layers and textures to keep a beat or render a melody (or not), and allowing us to lose ourselves in music in the same way we momentarily lose ourselves in a breeze pushing through a forest on an autumn night.