The specific sound of Lowell, MA garage-punk heroes Knock Over City was once described to me by a friend as “The Jesus Lizard with a touch of joy”. I’m inclined to think it’s a bit more complex than that, but further unpacking and examination of that description left me thinking my friend might actually be on to something. Both groups are certainly quite raucous, with moments of melodicism that are often quickly dashed away with more esoteric modes and tones. One could even draw comparisons between Knock Over City’s Nunziantte DiBenedetto’s slightly muffled and back-of-the-house delivery to David Yow’s lack of consistent up-frontness. And, if one were to try and claim that the Knock Over City lads have never heard of Steve Albini or Touch and Go Records, well now we’re just plain being ridiculous. However, while The Jesus Lizard were in good company miring themselves in the popular 90s trend of off-putting Gen X snarkitude, the boys in Knock Over City are a comparatively much warmer and approachable bunch. Some of this sense comes from how they package themselves, but can also be very easily gleaned by Nunze’s buoyant and grinning delivery. Hence, our “touch of joy”.
Arriving in the later half of 2020, Fogerty (presumably referring to CCR frontman John Fogerty, yet the album cover hilariously features an occultist shrine to Bruce Springsteen) is actually the third release from KOC this year. The group put out a dual single in January (Dungeon Model 420) and a 5-song EP in May (it’s rad dude.). Fogerty boasts the longest track listing at 7 tracks, but before we go awarding KOC for their prolificness one point should be made prudent up front: this is in fact seven different versions of the title track. A collection of seven iterations of the same tune can pose some challenges in the realm of critique as it isn’t entirely clear how one should properly consume such a record. Is the listener expected to sit through all the different “Fogerties” and the magic just lies in the subtle distinctions? Or is each version meant to be consumed one at a time, in which case this acts more as a sort of tin box of assorted flavored “Fogerties” and the listener can choose which “Fogerty” best fits the time and mood? I’m more inclined to believe the latter, but I have been tasked with squaring up all seven renditions for review so at that, let’s review the Fogerties seven.
“Fogerty” the 1st (what I will assume to be the alpha “Fogerty” in KOC canon) kicks things off with a spirited 2-minute garage-punk waltz. Once again, Nunze’s deadpan-but-gleeful baritone belts triumphant over the roaring ocean of full stacks and roomy drums with lyrics seemingly directed straight at the CCR frontman (“You can’t stop the rain/It goes on and on/Sorry, John”). Needle in some sweet guitar histrionics between the changes and some sneaky horns towards the end, and we get ourselves a blindingly effective punk rock single. The somewhat murky and more “live” production is likely all that would keep me from saying “Fogerty” would fit in perfectly on the comparatively slicker it’s rad dude. EP. “Fogerty” the 2nd (referred to as the Krishnacore is Now! Comp version) strips the song back to just acoustic guitar and vocals, this time with Nunze treating us to a more tuneful and emotive delivery with no-less impressive guitar riffage. Oddly enough, the lo-fi/heavily reverbed acoustic sound made me wonder if they took some sonic cues from Springsteen’s Nebraska record. The song translates surprisingly well to acoustic guitar, partly due to the waltz feel but also in part to the deceptively rich nature of the chords. Despite us dealing with the very same chords and lyrics, it was actually quite welcomed to hear this stripped-down version juxtaposed with the noisy full-band opener. The next few “Fogerties” are more or less different live or studio takes, including a smoldering performance on Lowell Train Live and an even more stripped back acoustic version (allegedly “recorded live” on 04/20/69, nice). Capping off this compilation is a spectacular remix from Kid Taco, who sounds as though they received all of the stems for all seven Fogerties and were expected to mash them all together into one three minute arrangement. And mash they certainly do; the stuttering time-stretched rhythms contrasting with the group’s souring aura created a disconnect I certainly would have never expected.
So despite the lack of differentiating material, we are actually left with a pretty accurate representation of what makes the band great: A tight and anthemic single that barely clocks over 120 seconds (featuring the LOUDEST rhythm section in the Merrimack Valley), some showcases for Nunze’s range and skill, the focused fury of their live shows, all wrapped up with a delightful sense of humor. Personal and public factors have rendered the band unable to perform live in 2020, which is genuinely a shame for reasons more than one. While new releases are always appreciated from Knock Over City, it can never be overstated how devastatingly massive these guys are in a live setting. Until then please, have a Fogerty.