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Definitive Albums: The Knife 'Silent Shout' (2006)

I Hear a Darkness

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


The Knife 'Silent Shout'

The Knife 'Silent Shout'


Not-notorious Notoriety

Before Silent Shout, Swedish electro siblings The Knife were largely known after being covered by José González, then having that cover end up in some Red Balloon-riffing commercial for a television or something. The song was "Heartbeats," one of the awesome jams from 2003's Deep Cuts, an album of fried electro anthems spackled with steel-pan percussion. It sounded like a slightly-disturbed take on pop music, but nothing nearly as disturbed as Silent Shout.

The album was more influenced by techno and featured a club-friendly cleanness, but it had none of the euphoria of dance music; none of, even, the melody and brightness of its predecessor. The third Knife LP was stark, striking, and quietly terrifying: existing in a nocturnal netherworld of icy synths, pitch-shifted vocals, and an uneasy eeriness that is borders on straight-up frightening.

Being a Man is Bliss

Its opening song, the LP's title track, sets the record's tenor; its sign-off line, "I caught a glimpse, now it haunts me" effectively functioning as self-reflexive commentary; once you've heard this Silent Shout sound, it's hard to shake. The song is filled with nightmare imagery, and lyrically addresses a blurring of gender-lines ("calling me woman and half-man") that is a persistent presence across the LP.

That's because of the idiosyncratic way Karin Dreijer Andersson —who splits the duo with brother Olof— uses her voice. Using pitch-shifting effects, she plays dueling voices within the same song; pitched up to represent the feminine, pitched down to play the masculine, somewhere elusively in-between to play with the slipperiness of the gender divide.

On several songs, Dreijer Andersson stages a dialogue in the verses, telling stories from varied perspectives. On "We Share Our Mother's Health," she paints colonialist expeditions south as a veritable phallic thrust, with women either along for the ride or treated as plunder on arrival. She plays with the intersection of devotion and oppression on "Marble House," then plunges into the darkness on the penultimate "One Hit," a masculinized shrine to the glories of patriarchal dominion ("yeah, being a man is bliss") couched in domestic violence, sexual aggression, and the misogyny of movies.

Fear Eats the Soul

"One Hit" matches its subject-matter by sounding terrifying. It's hard to convey, in text, exactly the darkness that it carries; its most dread-inducing line ("spending time with my family/like the Corleones!") sounding as much like some meaningless rapper's boast as it does a loaded father's boast. Perhaps the grimly-ironic chorus ("ho ho ho ho/ha ha ha ha") does it better: The Knife depicting oppression not just from the viewpoint of the cowed minion, but of the boastful, giddy oppressor.

In this, Silent Shout plays like some radical art-movie of the mind, a succession of nightmares in which music once associated with raves is pitched, melted, a re-shaped into gruesome commentaries on the blackness of society. Fear, in electronic music, usually summons that stock sci-fi parable: the fear of a high-tech future in which human values have been subsumed by the rise of the machines. But, here, fear is not of what might be to come, but what already is. The darkness that hangs over the 'enlightened' information age; that dwells, eternally, deep in our savage hearts.

Record Label: Island
Release Date: February 17, 2006

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