My introduction to Sacramento pop band Knock Knock began with an inside joke at a SAMMIES Showcase I attended in 2006. Just before getting started, lead singer Allen Maxwell announced that he and his band would be performing nothing but Anton Barbeau songs. Anton had thoroughly kicked ass in the previous set, and since he had long been my favorite local musician (see my first “Lost in Sacramento” entry below), hearing more of his songs sounded like a pretty sweet deal. Alas, Maxwell was just goofing around following some backstage shenanigans with Anton, but I was still impressed with how he provided a rousing beat for opening song “She Knocks Me Out” with handclaps. It’s true: A well-rehearsed clapping of hands can almost always win me over.
A couple years later, Knock Knock was awarded a SAMMIE to honor their second CD Girls on the Run (2008), but as superb as that release is, I feel their debut was just as deserving of the recognition. Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders (2004) is comprised of such an abundant range of intriguing textures and indelible melodies that it would inevitably be a tough act to follow. It’s remarkable that exuberant uptempo tunes like “I’ve Been a Drag” and “Dan Can You Stand” can occupy the same space with the languid beauty of “Oceanography” and “Levee,” but Knock Knock seems to have a knack for mixing things up without having to struggle to do so. “Eye of the Storm” finds a nice balance between the two extremes and is perhaps the best representation of their work as a whole, but you certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on other catchy numbers like “Jorge” and “Rotten Dogs.” Think of a poppier version of Yo La Tengo and you might have an idea of what to expect. Maxwell’s feathery-but-urgent vocals compare favorably to Ira Kaplan’s while Heather Conway adds an even lighter touch to a pair of songs a la Georgia Hubley.
Tasty stuff indeed, and when you’re finished with that one, you should be more than ready to take in the gorgeous harmonies and sugar-rush momentum of Girls on the Run. Punchy, jittery, chiming, rhyming . . . that’s what makes Pop pop, and it’s all here and then some. Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders had its share, but nearly every track on the follow-up features some variation on the standard “ooo” vocals to the point where Knock Knock can practically claim ownership. It’s almost as though they’re mantras providing temporary sanctuary from everything trying to rip the singer’s whole life apart. (“It’s alright now, it’s alright now . . . ooooooo,” Maxwell reassures in the title track.) Apocalyptic musings throughout the album could be referring to the end of the world or just the end of a relationship, but is there really a difference when it’s your heart on the chopping block?
Getting back to inside jokes, there’s plenty to be found inside the sleeves of both CDs. If you like that sort of thing, which I kinda do.
Bonus Fun Fact – According to Knock Knock’s bio, original member Nicola Miller signed a contract stating she would be the drummer to Maxwell’s bass for at least 20 years. She apparently found a loophole because she was replaced by Christine Shelley prior to the band recording its excellent third album, We Will Raise Your Child (2012). Then again, the contract is likely just another inside joke, so maybe we should call this “fun fiction.”
You can find Knock Knock’s Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders for sale here.