Tuesday, August 22, 2006
There is a funny scene in the otherwise unmemorable film version of High Fidelity, where John Cusack's record-store owner catches a crowd of brooding skate kids in the act of stealing records. When their spoils fall out onto the pavement, Cusack is appalled to see a Ryuichi Sakomoto album among them. It has always been a very particular person that likes Sakomoto (and I can't say I am that type of person) but I have a feeling that he would have always gone down well in the Dreijer household in Stockholm, home to Olof and his sister Karin, who record under the name The Knife. Just as folky types Vashti Bunyan, CocoRosie and The Polyphonic Spree have found that their time has come due to a fortuitous turn in musical tastes, so music derived from synth-meisters like Sakomoto, Gary Numan, Tangerine Dream and Robert Fripp is all of a sudden sellable again.
I got The Knife on the third strike. A Swedish ex-girlfriend tried to interest me in their self-titled debut album two years ago, but I didn't jump. Then a year later my sister gave me their second album Deep Cuts on mp3 but it remained scarcely listened to for months. The music is not what you would call catchy, until you turn a corner that is, and then it becomes addictive. And so with the release of their third album Silent Shout, I finally saw the attraction. People are claiming that it moves the group in a new direction but, apart from a levelling off of the more dancey aspects of the first two albums, the music is largely the same. Or, is different in the same way. There are more synthetic sounds in the mix, like the bleeps that underpin the album's most upbeat track 'Like a Pen', which is not unlike the Orbital of ten years ago, but more expansive and with an orthodox verse-chorus-brige-verse structure that reminds you of something more commercial. Except The Knife, despite their international success, are not in any discernible way commercial. The single 'We Share Our Mother's Health' is packed with the band's trademark shrill vocals and looped half-melodies that build up to more the sum of their parts only after about twenty plays. Not an obvious track to lead with, but in the age of Internet music anything is possible.
The band seldom play live gigs and I missed what I think was their first Paris gig a couple of months back which was reportedly impressive but very short at under an hour. Though all three albums are strong and get better the more you get under their deceptive surfaces Deep Cuts is the best, possibly because it is the one that is least like The Knife themselves; the presence of a wheezy tenor sax and a melancholic tinge, as opposed to the icy dispassion that permeates most of the music, makes it slightly more interesting. Can we call it pop music though?