The Knife

Silent Shout

(Mute; 2006)

By Alan Baban | 13 January 2008

Funny how a couple of effusive reviews can really get you riled up enough to breathe fire all over an album before you’ve heard a single note: to flame and purge, to withstand all the devilish mumbo-jumbo and, taking a choreographed step aside, to say, “Well, actually…”

Hey, I can’t say I didn’t pay half a thought to striking up a match to spit the napalm and set it all ablaze. I’d love to swing in, wrecking ball style, on this parade, bragging about how I already did five beats of this shit daily for the past three summers. With one hand behind my back and one on Microsoft Sound Recorder. It’d make an entertaining review, cutlery analogies and all.

But shit, Silent Shout is (fine) a great record, not so much pining for the burning torch and pitchfork (no pun intended) of backlash, but instead some degree of illumination. It seems the general consensus on this record is that it’s “scary.” I don’t believe in that assertion – I’d even go as far as conjuring up a clumsy phrase like “sinister confidence,” but I’ve listened to this record with the lights off and nothing much happened. In fact, I think I fell asleep. But that’s not to say The Knife make boring music – it’s all relative of course. I mean, if Llyod Doberman comes in blasting a Pixies song at a vet, I don’t think it would make all the sedated hamsters do a little jig (and lose a lot of blood). But the case of being “in the mood” for music applies especially to The Knife. Their music is challenging, the idiosyncrasies subtle, but on close listen this is one of the great pure pop albums of the year, despite the ruffled electronic tagline.

Those of us up to speed on Sony commercials may remember the curious incident of the multi-coloured bouncing balls bundling along to Jose Gonzalez’s “interpretation” of “Heartbeats.” Pleasantly staid, it anaesthetized the song’s giddy energy, but highlighted the underpinning melodic centre, one that could be found in several other places on 2004’s Deep Cuts. What took away, though, from perfectly distilled dance numbers like “Is It Medicine” was the hodgepodge company they were placed with, bright synths shuffling feet alongside tom tom filtered skits about a guy who keeps “his dick hanging out of his pants.” You might call it comedie verite.

On Silent Shout, The Knife have shaken off their more tangential musical inclinations and produced an intensely cohesive album, a monochrome rainbow that has emerged from the unfocused torrential rainstorm of before. That consistency, however, hasn’t so much seen them flouting their petals as bending time to regress backwards into bud, freezing a perpetual motion enclosed by the hues of night. So much of Silent Shout seems impenetrable – the oscillating arpeggio of the title track, like everything else here, couples with the manacled vocals of Karin Dreijer Andersson, all numbers of pitch shifters blurring the gender boundary to render what was once the face of the group almost indistinguishable from its homogenized backing. The Knife has no face, but simply reflects the faces of those brave enough to stare into it. Somebody get the Wachowskis onto this, pronto.

And so the band gallops through unfettered by the small print, the actually, the other side of the mirror, running up insistent hook after hook, swapping the Hermaphrodite Sugababes beat of “We Share Our Mother’s Health” with the Gibson-baiting patriarchy of “The Captain,” delving into the freak show within a freak show that is “Neverland” before conflating the composites on “Forest Families,” which pretty much acts as a manifesto: “Music tonight / I just want your music tonight”. They achieve consistency by shrouding the whole in a singular atmosphere, a musical canvas of still life, the energy-dosed momentum of tracks like “One Hit” replete with, at one point, what sounds like a pedophilic Santa Claus on the mic. It makes for a great album listening experience at the expense of the stand-on-shoulders joys of single, or potentially single, songs. But nothing is single on The Knife – everything composed, cut up, stitched, and carved into a transient entity – Frankenstein’s Musical, if you will. So yeah, all in all, pretty great.