Friday, December 15, 2006

#1: The Knife - Silent Shout

Both Silent Shout and YoYoYoYo begin with the same rhythmic pattern: a bass drum playing triplets laid out over a bass drum playing straight four on the floor. The fact that the two best records of the year both start the same way is not necessarily not a coincidence. It's just a really fantastically great and underused groove. Anyone will tell you, especially when it's played on two differently pitched bass drums. It's an auspicious way to start an album - it's the cleansing, the call to arms, the sacrificing of the feral boar, the circumcision. Blood, lifting of hands, weeping and the whole nine yards.

And it's no less rocky the rest of the way. The next song is cold in the way that makes you want to drink antifreeze to warm up. You could picture a covent of witches dancing to it, you could see a Dutch tourist dancing to it, you can see your 14 year old daughter dancing to it, you can see yourself dancing to it, cause you are. While "Neverland" might seem like the sort of song they'd play at those blood clubs we've all heard about and seen in Wesley Snipes movies, "The Captain" reminds you that, just cause their from Scandinavia, that doesn't mean that the Knife are vampires, cause everyone knows vampires hate extended droning intros.

If they aren't vampires though, their still hella weird. And I've never been one to think that only weird people are capable of producing great art, but sometimes it's true. Sometimes it helps to live in an isolated cabin furnished with vintage synthesizers in the forests of Sweden with your sister when you're trying to make a great album. But if anyone else did that and tried to make an album like this it would suck. Every great album, every album that doesn't suck, with a few exceptions, is very close to sucking. Greatness most often is held by a precarious string dependent not tenacity or craft but on the ineffable: brain chemistry, pheromones, drugs, collective conciousness. And the Knife, unlike so many, know instinctively how to manipulate the aether. And how to program a drum machine. Fuck.

There hasn't been programming this uncomplicated, precise and flawless since people usd to not bother programming things. Maybe it isn't programmed, most of it, and really it couldn't be for how human it comes out. But maybe it is. That's only one very small mystery among the myriad mysteries of this band and this album.

Like, for example, does Olof sing at all? Or are the low parts just Karin's best impesonation of a deranged ogre pitch shifted down to a Nordic man's register? What does she mean by "pen"? Does she mean "pencil" or do they sharpen pens in Sweden?

Mystery and intrigue help sell a band or an album, and they are very scarce commodities in the age of MySpace, so they shouldn't be overlooked when calculating the stoichiometry of the Knife's appeal. But the fact that most of their songs are love songs veiled in really strange imagery is equally as intriguing.

"Music tonight/I just want your music tonight" - "They say we had a communist in the family/I had to wear a mask".

There's tension like that in the music too - "Forest Families" never blows up, never even gets close. It's just those driving hi hats, opening and closing (digitally of course), the filters being opened up only to let the slightest amount of light in on the keyboards. Really from "From Off to On" on out, there's no dancefloor material to speak of, which brings to mind albums like Remain in Light, the kind you didn't think they made anymore. What good does the idea of "halves" do in the world of KazAa? Is that how you spelled it? It creates narrative. It makes for an album you can live with and not just listen to. And fuck, where did that chorus from "Like a Pen" come from! The moment at 3:09 is more inexplicably unprectably natural than anything in electronic music since 5:07 of "Happy Cycling", and that's supposed to be the sort of thing electronic music is good for, isn't it?

Everything about this album makes sense to me, and it's basically all I listened to this summer.

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