Knock Knock still knocking

It’s an election year, so Sacramento foursome of course has a new album

Art from Knock Knock’s <i>We Will Raise Your Child</i> album sleeve.

Art from Knock Knock’s We Will Raise Your Child album sleeve.

“My brain, it hurts a lot,” Allen Maxwell sings urgently. “Sometimes it helps to talk. It helps to get it out. It helps to walk around.”

So goes the beginning of “Wild and Blue,” the opening track on We Will Raise Your Child, the just-released third album from Maxwell’s band, Knock Knock.

Underscored by chugging chunks of guitar grafted to a four-on-the-floor rhythm, the bass-playing Maxwell’s voice jumps to a falsetto, singing “’til I don’t feel strange” as Mike Cinciripino’s guitar liquefies into something more viscous and supple. The vocal line leaps into a gallop, and the harmonies of rhythm guitarist Heather Conway and drummer Christine Shelley pile on just as Cinciripino’s candy-coated, surf-guitar tones arc skyward. Suddenly, you’re dancing in pure pop-music heaven, not even a full minute into the song.

“Wild and Blue” clocks in at 3 minutes on the money. It’s a masterpiece of vintage AM-radio, hit-single compression, a seamless construction of verses, choruses and bridges that sounds like what might happen if Fleetwood Mac or the Mamas & the Papas had stumbled through a wrinkle in time and ended up on, oh, the Kill Rock Stars label with Elliott Smith.

Like the 10 songs that follow, the song may be a bit too sunny for Pabst-swilling Northwest tastes. But as music from the Golden State, it’s right down the pipeline.

However, Maxwell—an amiable and bespectacled middle-school teacher who grew up in Yuba City—isn’t so inclined to agree. “A lot of people feel that way,” he says. “It’s weird, but I don’t always think of it as California music.”

Maybe that sunny vibe comes from the time-tested, major-chord progressions, with harmonies with lots of thirds and sixths piled on, along with Cinciripino’s Fender guitar sound. “He’s a musical genius in many ways,” Maxwell says. “We’ll all write a song, and he’ll really get something melodic and unique to play on it.”

The sweetness, however, is countered by the album’s darker lyric sense, with themes such as what it’s like to grow up in an environment that may not be all that nurturing—albeit tempered with a bit of mordant humor. “Like a song about stealing children and keeping them in the compound,” Maxwell says, referring to the title track. “We thought that was funny.”

Constructing a conscious narrative, Maxwell says, seems to arise when Knock Knock writes its songs, like the band did on this album’s predecessor, Girls on the Run, which he describes as being about the end of the world.

“It helps with songwriting,” he says, “because if you come up to a bump in the road, you can think of your theme. On this one, we decided to focus on childhood, and how frightening it can be. It also coincides with Mike and Heather becoming parents at the same time we were writing this album.”

Conway is quite pregnant on the album’s cover, and their older daughter is pictured holding a rifle. This, apparently, is not a cabal of skinny-jeans-wearing so-called hipsters. “Three of us are older and, like, have jobs. And now there’s two kids,” Maxwell says, referring to the progeny of Cinciripino and Conway. “So, being in a band is different from when you’re in your 20s. Plus, my job is all-consuming.”

We Will Raise Your Child was released by a joint label: Sacramento Records, operated by fellow local musician Charles Albright, and Phono Select Records, which takes its name from its parent, that Midtown record store on K Street. It’s Knock Knock’s third album, after Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders from 2004 and Girls on the Run from 2008. Like presidential elections, Knock Knock seems to come up with something new every four years or so.

“I think Knock Knock will always be a band,” Maxwell concludes. “I can’t imagine a time when we’re not doing Knock Knock, whether it’s doing an album, or a single or playing a show.”