If the men of Knife Crime are guilty of anything, it is delinquency. Since its inception more than 10 years ago, the Kansas City band has entertained hometown fans with its appealing brand of brash, multi-flavored rock, but only in live settings – not a moment of recorded music.
The long wait is over, however: After spending months at Massive Sounds studio with producer Paul Malinowski in 2019 and then waiting out the worst of the pandemic's stranglehold, Knife Crime's debut album, Lovely Gary, is ready. Finally. It releases April 2021 on Black Site.
In 2021, Knife Crime comprises four veterans of Kansas City's music community. Going back to the early 1990s, founding brothers Byron (guitar, lead vocals) and Brad Huhmann (bass, vocals) have played with a small legion of bands, including TV Fifty, Onward Crispin Glover, the Dark Circles, Truck Stop Love, Red Kate and Lushbox. Jake Cardwell, who came aboard in 2012, has played drums for Reflector, the Belles, the Caves and the Conquerors. In 2018, multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah James Gonzales joined, bringing along a resume that includes Elevator Division, Monta at Odds, Be/Non, Umberto, Rhunes and Redder Moon.
All that talent and experience comes to bear on Lovely Gary, which is far more than a composite and rehash of everyone's former bands. Rather, the record showcases Knife Crime's distinctive knack for embedding smart pop elements within songs that plumb a variety of genres and influences.
From the onset of “Kids' Excuses,” the bright-eyed lead track, the 34-minute, 10-track joyride asserts itself as a barrage of melodic songs built on sturdy riffs and grooves and driven by clever changes in key, tempo and dynamics. All that is embellished with clean, crisp harmonies and embroidered with nifty instrumental filigrees.
Despite the sleek and elaborate décor, there's something decidedly no-frills about the entire album. Every brush stroke is rendered with intent and purpose and without extravagance. You could call it musically promiscuous, yet all the changes and turns, within songs and from one track to the next, are navigable, natural. Nothing feels forced or imposed; its sensibility is organic.
There's not a moment of filler here, but, along with “Excuses,” several other tracks stand out: “The Boy Who Could Untie Shoes With His Mind,” which opens with a spacey guitar riff that implies the latter-day Police, then reclines into something smooth and balmy; “Falcon,” whose hooky guitar line will loiter in your brain like a classic jingle; “Alone With My Principles,” which is soulful and ballad-adjacent and showcases Byron Huhmann's falsetto; “Mountains,” whose jaunty, funky vibe is nourished generously by the band's outstanding rhythm section; and “Lump Sum,” which takes jangle rock into darker, rockier terrains.
They save the best for last: the closer, “Roses,” which detonates like the grand finale at a fireworks show. It's an irresistible groove-fest, a rollicking locomotive of a rock anthem bolstered by more brawny bass and percussion, some well-placed backing vocals and more dexterous guitar handiwork, both rhythm and lead.
Once that track is over and the album ends, the subsequent silence is sobering, and you may be inclined to restart Gary for yet another ride. Abide the impulse; each subsequent listen reveals new rewards.
Now that all the evidence is in, then, let's dismiss all charges of delinquency. The only act Knife Crime has committed is some elite musical mischief on a memorable album that is well worth the wait.