The key for Religious Knives, nowadays, appears to be focus – and clarity. Starting as a side project for Maya Miller and Michael Bernstein, then one half of Double Leopards, collecting Nate from Mouthus and Todd Cavallo along the way, their modus operandi has seen them slowly disrobing their more prolix noisic elements while reaching for rock songs that take the language of post-‘luude garage-psych – I’m seeing Opal and Spacemen 3 flashing in huge neon lights here – and cross it with the kind of levitational dronology that’s been one of the key distributaries from post-Dead C free-rock action.
Let’s be blunt here. The Door isn’t the best thing Religious Knives have done: that’s their Live At Big Jar Books set from 2007. But like that disc, The Door has the group paring things back: the opening “Downstairs,” the next ready-made RK classic after “The Sun,” is purposeful, riding a two-note groove for bass that’s magnified through Nate Nelson’s pop-tubbing toms, while Miller’s organ and Bernstein’s guitar weave through each other’s arms. Bernstein’s guitar reminds of the single-note logic of Sonic Boom’s guitar solos, twisting three or four notes into luridly acidic comedown near-melodies.
“Basement Watch”’s riffs glide alongside other spinning tops skating across the floor in formation, and Miller’s vocals are attitude perfect – imagine defrocked nuns heading up a girl group, all full of ‘psychic trash.’
When Religious Knives stretch their limbs, they’re still good, but both “The Storm” and “On A Drive” lack the power of their more formed songs. This is not an argument for ‘form over freedom,’ because at their very best RK expose that divide for the fraudulent aesthetic fascism it is – “Downstairs” is a perfect example of how freedom can’t help but spill through great rock. Indeed, it’s one of the genre’s defining traits, when done correctly. The most surprising thing about “On A Drive,” instead, is Bernstein’s voice – close to hectoring, it recalls the desperate calls of Sonic Youth’s “Society Is A Hole.”
SY given a crash course in bedroom Rubbles worship: that’s a pretty fair comparison, though it undersells the uniqueness of what RK are doing, at least contextually. (I mean, there are plenty of decent free rock units around, but few that are so eager in their reconciliation of ’60s/’70s heft and ’90s/’00s groan’n’grunt.) They still need to tweak a few things here and there, but The Door’s hitting me real good as a key example of how to convincingly rock without embarrassing yourself, or your audience, in the process.