The Knife: Silent Shout

The Knife
Silent Shout
Border/V2/Brille (import)

This you can expect: A synth record from Scandinavia will be catchy like a cold. But a stark and arresting tour de force of gender confusion, isolation, and longing? No kidding. The briefest of bios on states, "The Knife is Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson. They are based in Stockholm, Sweden, and have made music together since 1999." If you know anything more I'd love to hear it.

All the individual sounds on Silent Shout are shiny, chilly, and either frankly direct or drifting out of wintry reverb. The limited and slightly unfashionable sonic palette gives a sense of focus, of two people putting up walls between themselves and the hot world beyond. However unpretty or unlush they get, the Knife can't be unpop. As the album swings bipolar between dance-floor menace and slow-drift melancholia, there's always a hook-maker's attention to structure and form, movement and drama. There's not an unmemorable melody to be found. And it's not all narrow-eyed Euro-gloom, either; there's plenty of Miami Vice swagger (maybe it's just the tom rolls).

The best gimmick is the vocals. There are multipart harmonies all over, made up of voices warped and re-pitched drastically out of their register. Silent Shout's terrain is populated by testosteroney female baritones, Kewpie-doll boys, Siamese harpies, karaoke Siouxsies. When an untreated male voice (Olof, I assume) lifts out of "Marble House"'s electro-cabaret interior, it's like a candle lit in a blackout.

I'd call it all goth if it weren't both so light on its feet ("We Share Our Mother's Health," "Like a Pen"--DJs take note, please) and if it didn't seem so strangely rural, in a Nordic kind of way. The narratives, what I can make out of them anyway, are too goofy to be just dark. "Forest Families" opens with "Too far away from the city/Some kids left on their own/They say we had a communist in the family/I had to wear a mask." Who knows what we lose (or gain) in translation, but we can understand the feeling of moving through a cold world, especially here. We still have a long way until spring.

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