Best way to find music: share a bedroom, share an office. Between people playing me their favourites, and the need to drown out background noise, I've probably spent more time wearing headphones these last six weeks than in the previous six months. Mostly the easy-to-ignore genres that are perfect background music to work to (psytrance, industrial, metal, and sometimes foreign pop). Also, though, things that demand more attention and then worm their way deeper into your body, until you need to pull them back out by naming them.
First among them, Silent Shout (2006) by brother-sister electronica pair The Knife.
Many reviews describe this as a 'cold' album. To me, it's not so much cold as alien. The key is in the vocals, Karin Dreijer Andersson's voice twisted, blended and echoed into a chorus of androgynous, even inhuman sounds. This is the the Midwich Cuckoos, telepathically linked and talking (almost) with one tongue. Most literally in From off to on, as menacing children:
When we come home, we want it quiet and calm
We want you to sing us a song
When we come home, we pull the curtains down
Making sure that the TV is on
But the same voices are present We share our mother's health, this time as refugees from Eden (We came down from the north, blue hands and a torch). And in The Captain they emerge as grizzled sailors:
We are out of wind
We have pock-marked chin
We have lots of water
We turn the other cheek and we win
This is what makes the album -- the aura of sinister closeness of the hive-mind. Its echoes remain even in a love-song like Marble House, as side-effects of Karin singing a duet with herself.
Not that this is a concept album; in fact, I suspect I'm reading in ideas that barely crossed the minds of Karin and Olof. Each song here is a piece by itself, with no explicit connections between them. The steadily-deepening nightmare soundscape of the title track contrasts sleepy, almost despairing vocals with an insistent background of synth arpeggios. After the end of that richness, it's a surpise to be brought back down to the simple, panpipe-like opening of Neverland.
Most tracks on Silent Shout start something like this, taking an almost-familiar sound -- a dripping tap on Like a Pen, clicking marbles for Marble House, or on We share our mothers health what sounds very much like the Clangers -- and quickly losing it under many more layers. The effect is most striking on Marble House, where the clicking is speeded up into some kind of crackling.
Lyrics are fairly unimportant for the first half of the album, the heavily-manipulated vocals contributing to the sound rather than telling a story. Towards the end, though, we have some more lyrically-driven pieces. In Forest Families we hear a double-edged reflection on a back-to-nature childhood. It also contains a subtler form of the feminist anger which in One Hit is brought to the fore ("It's manhood's bliss / One hit one kiss"), and powerfully combined with a worksong-like call-and-response.
Finally, Still Light brings the album to a gloomy close. The singer, talking to her doctor, is facing the aftermath of -- well, we don't quite know what. A drug binge? A suicide attempt? Specificity would perhaps have detracted from the emotional landscape, which is one of bleakness, combined at the very end with faint hope and the need to continue:Now where is everybody? Is it still light outside?"
Other reviews of Silent Shout: