The album “Texas Rock Bottom” was released this week by the Dallas band Rangers. Independent radio journalist Lyndsay Knecht thinks it could be the state’s breakthrough album in 2016. On this week’s “Cut In,” Knecht’s weekly music segment for “Texas Standard,” she explains why this rock record was an unlikely swerve for artist Joe Knight, who’s been prolific but under-the-radar.
When Joe Knight discovers music, it’s often his own. He’s been working quietly as Rangers for more than ten years now, pulling pieces of groove lines and sonic thoughts from his personal archive to make collage songs. This practice has formed his concept of pop music: a playful, hypnotic blend, always delivered through layers of glass between his first idea and the listener.
Knight’s last L.P. was made of bits he first put to tape back in 2008. Then those rescued parts were composed into a double-volume record called “Scraps” in 2011, then snipped into pieces again for that most recent release, 2014’s “Reconsider Lounge” out on Not Not Fun Records.
“I wanted them to come across like audio graphic novels,” Knight tells me, on a walk through his East Dallas neighborhood.
His auteurship is the kind that can only come from holing up and working alone. That loner tendency produced the ephemeral psychedelia of Rangers’ mashups and now it serves an entirely different body of work, out this week. We hear Knight at his most steady and frank with the straightforward “Texas Rock Bottom” — guitar-driven songs that dwell in a tough spot and roll around in it.
Knight found himself in such a place upon his return to Texas from the Bay Area in 2012.
“I just went through like a really hard time. I thought it would be easy to come back and have a life here, and it turned out to be really hard. I found out that I was just wrong. You get older and you think, you learn you grow and you mature, but sometimes you’re just wrong,” he laughs.
That resignation feeds the song “Never Again,” which finds Knight tripping and laughing at his missteps.
You can hear his early English post-punk influences like Echo and the Bunnymen and Felt throughout “Texas Rock Bottom”. But the best thing about this record is that it doesn’t try to be anything. Knight is skilled at downturned vocal lines but he doesn’t shy from riffy instrumentals here, either – he’s still himself, just blunt.
The sound is pure yet subtly dressed with occasional synth parts, a feature Knight says is more due to constraints of his home recording setup and from playing and producing everything himself. As a rock musician Knight carries an ease of authenticity Kurt Vile should be jealous of. “Texas Rock Bottom” is a point for being exactly where you are.
Rangers has played as a full band at South By Southwest before and though he’s kept to himself since moving back to Dallas, Knight says he’s not ruling out a live setup for this material. A peek at his bandcamp page, though, shows him “actively seeking a band” in DFW-Denton. For a certain kind of musician with discerning sensibilities and an itch to play straight, it’s the most covetable gig in the area.