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The Knife - Silent Shout

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Artist: The Knife

Album: Silent Shout

Label: Mute

Review date: Jul. 10, 2006

Rex the Dog’s remix of “Heartbeats,” the standout cut on The Knife’s Deep Cuts debut, harnessed Eurotrash and rode it like Atreyu on Falkor the Luckdragon in The NeverEnding Story – not just into the clouds, but into the heavens. That transcendence be reached by matching Nena with Eno with Daft Punk is more of a pleasure than a revelation; something everyone could agree upon without saying anything.

The rest of Deep Cuts was a welcome but, ultimately, insubstantial diversion. Imagine a middling night spot in the heart of Vienna: pretty faces, tarnished red velvet, a limited but sufficient selection of slightly overpriced drinks, ambiance bordering on the pornographic, bass nudging conversation toward the point of incomprehensibility – a weird confusion of Manchester, Wall Street, Bacardi advertisements and a morgue. Upwardly mobile, but going nowhere. The key is to get too obliterated to notice, and fast, leaving the post-mortem for the morning after.

Silent Shout picks up with the morning that begins as the sun is setting, a naïf in an interrogative but still vaporous state of mind. The party has arrived in Berlin, where no celebration lacks the appropriate existential misgivings. Grand historical forces, vocoders, a tumultuous sense of self-awareness, pervasive monumentalism; brave towers of glass and steel, guilty castles of medieval stone; sinister synth echoes and premonitory handclaps, even meditative soundscapes. It’s all here.

If the city is the epicenter, it’s also the villain. Silent Shout is a record about suffocating, not being heard and, with luck and youth on one’s side, finding an escape from the urban machinery bent on crushing the spirit of humanity. The libretta reads like Puccini as written by a teenager in the process of transitioning from hedonism to revolutionary romantics as her mode of rebellion (courtesy of a light reading of the Situationist International). Luxuriant production, dramatic poise and emotional idealism reign. Here’s the spoiler: love can re-invent the city.

“Forest Families” drives the point home, floating across an autobahn of tweaked synth arpeggios, the kilometers marked by a rattling hi-hat. There is very little else on this road; no real beat, no trajectory, just a long stretch of night leading away from the city to the mystical land of the Volk, where distractions are minimal, warm bodies are plentiful, and the crescendos last all night. The communists, the non-conformists, the admirers of Marquis de Sade, the legions of alienated dreamers, all recite the mantra: “I just want your music tonight.”

For the most part, The Knife leaves the soundtrack to the listener’s imagination – the party (or culmination of politicized post-PLUR social idealism) is the absence that haunts Silent Shout. This is not to say that there aren’t a couple heartfelt stompers begging for the Rex treatment, but even on those cuts the exuberance is tempered by skittish anxiety – the mood is not quite right. Instead, the Knife delivers “Na Na Na,” a nod in Bjork’s direction complete with warbling music box melody and haunted-child-on-Quaaludes impersonation. “The Captain,” too, finds The Knife at play in the fields of the Lord: three minutes of ominous synth swells prompt a piece of majestically elegiac acid house, The Knife whispering like a paranoid apparition. It’s a trip that never gets into full swing but constantly threatens to turn bad; the center has been located.

“Marble House” is the operatic climax, where the choice between escape and surrender must be made for our two lovers, who share the pathos-laden chorus: “The moment we believe / that we have never met / and in our kind of love / it’s easy to forget / when we are all alone / and we do both agree / we have a thing in common / this was meant to be.”

Silent Shout’s thematic devices don’t get a whole lot of mileage, but there is a perverse sense of thrill in listening to the melodrama take shape. This is a techno bildungsroman, a rendering of a world that falls apart outside the range of the speakers. The key is minor, the tone is melancholy, the concerns are callow, but the leitmotif is redeeming. How could it not be? The Knife knows that music, like love, conquers all comers. Always has, always will. It’s not Thomas Mann, but the feeling is real, and it strikes one hundred and twenty times per minute.

By Alexander Provan

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