The Knife are Swedish brother-and-sister-duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson. They’ve been making music together since the late 90s, releasing their eponymous debut in 2001 and the follow up Deep Cuts in 2004, while building up a significant following in Europe with their catchy, although unexceptional, synthpop. Their latest album Silent Shout is a significant step forward, with the siblings developing a darker, more unique sound.
The core of this sound is Karin’s voice, which has been stretched, slowed, bent, chopped and filtered, to often sinister effect, particularly when layered over equally strange soundscapes. Electronic music is typically described as cold and mechanical, but rarely is it said to be sickly. The music on Silent Shout often sounds damaged – the notes imperfect, the arpeggios and melodies a little out.
The title track opens the album and immediately sets a disquieting mood. Metallic voices describe nightmare imagery over a maddeningly squiggly synth and a single pulsating note. This note is the song’s only constant, as other sounds dance around it, move to the fore, or disappear into the background.
The following track, Neverland, is more upbeat, but similarly built around a simple theme. A wobbly little melody fades in and out around rat-a-tat percussion, over which Karin’s (almost) untreated vocals tell of ‘a fancy man’ and ‘money that burns in my hand’. Like most of the lyrics on Silent Shout they are far from straightforward, but the general feeling is one of disease and dysfunction.
The Captain begins with a long instrumental section. Single notes float and echo, merge with a deeper, more ominous sound – percussion fades in, and finally a chorus of creepy robotic-chipmunk voices.
The current single, We Share Our Mother’s Health, is a highlight. Sickly synths blink and bob over a driving dancebeat accompanied by a series of vocal melodies, the third of which finds Karin’s voice transformed into a weird baritone. The final section of the song has all three melodies coming together in some sort of bizarre robotic chant.
In Na Na Na – a kind of futuristic nursery rhyme (or anti-lullaby) – the voice and the electronics blend as one:
I’ve got soul in my bones
Got a home, a dog and a man to call my own
I’ve got my period
To take care of
And to collect in blue tampons
Invention takes a break towards the middle of the album, although, after all the weirdness it comes as a relief.
Marble House is a kind of torch song – glacial and very European, while Like A Pen is a dance tune about body image – adorned with tinny synths and tapdancing beats. The meandering From Off To On completes a trio of agreeable, yet unremarkable songs.
Silent Shout finishes strongly, however, with the last three songs among the best on the album.
Forest Families describes a family in hiding:
They said we have a communist in the family
I had to wear a mask
Over bubbling electronics Karin pleads: I just want your music tonight
One Hit is possibly the strangest song on the album. A stomping dance track (it’s been described elsewhere as ‘goblin glam’) that ‘celebrates’ masculinity, Karin’s voice warped to sound like a chorus of demonic football players.
The narrator of the haunting final track, Still Light, sings from her hospital bed over weeping string synths:
Now where is everybody?
Is it still light outside?
Given the album’s preoccupation with the damaged and diseased, and its unhealthy sound palette, it’s an appropriate place for the album to end.
Silent Shout is not a ‘happy’ record and it’s not always a pleasure to listen to, but The Knife have successfully created their own unique sound world, with its own languages, landscapes and characters. Many artists have such an aim, but few achieve it with such style and originality.