It all starts in Sweden. Again, this blond-ful country proves to be the cradle of rather captivating artists (The Knife, Midaircondo, Little Dragon, to name a few) and the land is still fertile up there, unlike in some other places where indie music seems already to be somewhat over-ripe (the author uses the term indie here and hereafter as an all-embracing category which excludes everything that is mainstream – hence, just as a purely subjective definition).
Spotlight on The Knife, then.
The two siblings, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer have been at the forefront of Swedish indie scene ever since their debut album The Knife (2001), and until the present day have never failed expectations. Deep Cuts saw the light – and the glory – in 2003; Silent Shout was delivered in 2006 and immediately received plenty of supportive nods from media and audience. All albums were released by their own record label, Rabid Records.
Sure, they took some time to mull things over, but it paid off and we should be grateful. Stubbornly refractory to the rules of mainstream music market, The Knife prefer not to unveil themselves in public, concealing themselves constantly behind masks, heavy makeup, digital distortions, and gimmicks of the like. Their initial tendency to eschew live performances mirrored the same attitude, and, not surprisingly, turned out to be a very clever (whether or not intentional) marketing strategy. Don’t we like to be mocked, anyways? Karin has recently embarked on her solo, equally outstanding project. As Fever Ray, she undertakes a further step towards the obscure sonic realm already foreshadowed in Silent Shout.
If you could chew a knife, what would it sound like? If you could squeeze sounds out of your weirdest toy…?
Some of the Shanghaiers got the chance to hear the flattened (and – sadly enough – more famous) version of their hit Heartbeats performed by country-mate José Gonzales, curled around his acoustic guitar and drenched in Glamour Bar’s soft lighting. Well, nothing could be farther from the outburst of sonic energy that the original version triggers, and that we find, renewed and refined, in Silent Shout.
Yet, the colorful and transversal synth-pop of their first records, which indulged so much sometimes in clever revisitations of the 80s, shifts gently with Silent Shout towards even gloomier soundscapes.
Here, a synthetic, gothic allure creeps through all the songs, even the ones with more sparkling elements. Keyboards and synth create a thick texture of sounds that, combined with distorted, unnatural voices evoke eerie atmospheres and spooky reminiscences of our deepest fears. Inner and outer worlds are cunningly juxtaposed, and this is much more fun than it sounds like.
Imagine a wide spectrum of edgy sounds skilfully scattered throughout the album and glued together by pounding beats, so much that it’s hard to tell whether what we hear is the well disguised fruit of painstaking devotion or the surprising outcome of intentional randomness. Either way, the result will allow the listener to be pleasantly bewildered and merrily unsettled.
The majestic overture track, Silent Shout, makes synapses snatch from its very inception and drags them into a journey of musical discovery, made of squeaking voices, twisted fairytales, overlapping elements, bouncing notes, catchy rhythms, and fleeting sound drops. Some songs, like We Share Our Mother’s Health, Neverland or Like A Pen, feature a more playful and exotic attitude, with glossy neat-cut sounds, and a techno-friendly drive. Others instead, such as From Off To On, Still Light, Na Na Na, are composed of nearly disembodied melodies, like echoes of some lyrical haze whispering in the distance.
The languid voice of country-mate Jay-Jay Johanson guest-stars in Marble House, and contributes in the choral peaks to the perfectly melancholic after taste of the track; The Captain and Forest Families unleash a mesmerizing power that could be tracked back in time and even remind you of a Kraftwerk-like vibration. As one can see, it’s hard to stick a label to this record, since it has empowered electronic music to explore new and untamed frontiers.
Its aesthetic approach is, needless to say, in line with the ambition to recreate a seemingly warped version of reality, as the video of Silent Shout exemplifies. Topping off this musical extravaganza with wry lyrics (when decrypted), witty hints, and false naivety (the contrasting music and lyric of Na Na Na); it all makes sense in the end. It’s quirky, the quintessence of irony.
Sure, one must be ready to accept the provocation, acknowledge that this enduring confusion is part of the plot and get the best out of it. No easy listening here; rather, a borderline experience that could either lift you to unexpected vertigo, or bury you beneath a mocking heap of doubts.