If you wanted to make a case for why no rock masterpieces are being made anymore (not saying you should), an album like 31Knots’s Worried Well may be a good place to start, at least on the creativity side of things. Here’s an underrated, eclectic indie-rock band that has everything going its way: It's gone a decade without producing a bad release, it has the support of Portland, Oregon, one of the most happenin’ music cities in the world, and has released an album that brings together all that makes it great. In past decades, with fewer and bolder bands, an album like Worried Well had a better chance of being considered a masterpiece. Here, 31Knots have produced a very good album -- maybe even a great album -- but one that simply does not reach the level it could have.
The album builds layers upon layers, both on repeated listens as well as over the course of a single play. The band has alternated between serious and fun albums, and this album's first half has a little of both. “Strange Kicks” recalls the quirkiness of It Was High Time to Escape, and the rejected-health-insurance nightmare, “The Breaks,” harkens back to the math-inspired urgency of their first LP, 2002's A Word Is Also a Picture of a Word.
The album ups the ante in the second half with the standout, cascading mini-epic “Opaque/All White,” which whets the appetite for the would-be title track. “Worried But Not Well,” the multipart crown jewel of the album and arguably of 31Knots’ entire catalog, shows you why this band has stuck around since 1997. Beginning with melodic, dense noise for the first 70 seconds or so, the song bridges abruptly but naturally into a happy, choppy-guitared middle section that fades to a bile-driven close with Joe Haege yelling his way out the door.
But if there was a chance to truly create something special, why did 31Knots chicken out with the last two tracks? After two more fine tracks follow “Worried But Not Well,” the band leaves us with the killjoy “Upping the Mandate,” which sounds like interlude music in a NES game and languishes for five minutes. After an Eastern-tinged instrumental experiment “Between 1 & 2,” we’re done, 12 tracks and 43 minutes after we started, and just 10 minutes after we thought we were hearing something spectacular. The title of “Upping the Mandate” is the polar opposite of the songs’ effect, as it ultimately ends any chances of Worried Well having a shelf life in the modern rock consciousness of more than two years.
Worried Well would have been better off if it were longer and had more tracks, and it may have worked as a double album. With a chance to break the bank if they took a big enough risk, 31Knots have instead cut things short. I guess that’s to be expected. After all, we can’t risk losing our health insurance, now can we?