You sweep back gnarled branches, staring into a moonlit glade. The surrounding forest crackles with nocturnal dissonance as you try to stifle a rampant heartbeat. Their eyes glimmer in the pale evening light, curled beaks and black capes silhouetted against the flames that leap higher as the dance quickens. Your ears are assaulted with their ghostly voices, distorted to resemble benign demons and calling to the moon as it peeks from behind passing clouds.
They’ve spotted you.
Your feet hit the forest floor running, the rhythmic thumping against the undergrowth becomes the soundtrack of your escape. “Don’t dare look back,” you tell yourself, but you can feel them gaining. Shuffling cloth snakes around your ankles and sends you crashing to the ground. But before you can sneak a closer look at your pursuers, you’re awake in bed, drenched in sweat, your sheets held in a death-grip. A sigh of relief accompanies the reassurance that it was only a nightmare. You suddenly freeze, hearing those unmistakable voices break the silence of the room. A blinking light from the stereo informs you it was left on. As you flick the switch, you breath another sigh as you pull The Knife’s Silent Shout from the tray and settle back down to sleep.
Sweden’s The Knife descends like an early morning mist, enveloping your newly-awakened mind with subtle electronic nuance and overt menace. The third full-length from the sibling duo of Olof and Karin Dreijer, Silent Shout is what David Lynch would use for the score if he ever made an Eraserhead sequel. With a chilling ambiance conjured by unnerving atmospherics, the duo’s latest defies convention and categorization with a near-sadistic bent. While still incorporating dance elements akin to last release Deep Cuts, Silent Shout is a much darker affair, perhaps even on the cusp of a new gloom-dance movement. Karin Dreijer’s siren’s call (see the magnificent “What Else Is There” by Royksopp), when not run through heavy distortion (and even when it is), will pierce the skin of even the most critical listeners.
The Dreijers seem to bask in self-created seclusion and general avoidance of the media, wearing capes and crow-masks for photo-shoots and only having played one live show, ever. But it’s an aesthetic that only adds to the effectiveness of their music. Silent Shout is in many ways sterile, but sterile like a scalpel, designed for precision, to get under your skin and make you bleed. Expertly programmed drum machines and sinuous synthesizers dominate the soundscape to make for a truly hair-raising aural experience.
A thumping bass line on the opening/title track sets the stage for the programmed beats, and for about a minute, things seem normal. But as soon as the vocals emerge, distorted almost beyond recognition, chanting with methodical poise, you know you’re in for a strange journey. The pulse and grind of “Neverland” swells with Karin’s poignant observations on artistic sacrifice: “I’m singing for money that burns my hands.” Various social themes surface throughout the album, reflecting a newfound maturity in songwriting for the siblings. From female domestication on the airy “Na Na Na,” male dominated society on the farcical “One Hit” and even tackling body issues on “Like A Pen.”
Nowhere on Silent Shout will you find a repetitious sound, or one that sounds vaguely familiar to any other music you’ve likely heard. “Marble House” propels through the clouds with the clacking of castanets before melting away into stargazing synthetic whistles. The intro of “We Share Our Mother’s Health” revs up like a malfunctioning carousel before kicking into its dance gears. Paranoia pervades the excellent “Forest Families,” a tale of flight from the city and an oppressive government and into a “Nature lover’s safe oasis.”
With Silent Shout, The Knife has trampled genres to create a truly original take on electronic music. Their ambition may only come second to their talent and studio wizardry, which is staggering in its artistic scope. When listening to Silent Shout, don’t expect to come away unscathed, but cherish your scars like badges of honor. Just make sure you listen with the lights on.