The Knife: Silent Shout

For all its unifying characteristics—crystalline synth intricacy, epic electro-goth ambiance, glass-shattering vocals—, The Knife's third album Silent Shout encompasses a panoply of styles, defying any attempt to slot it into a single category. Swedish brother-and-sister duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson conflate goth, electro, punk, pop, and techno into a terror-stricken, oft-skeletal hybrid that somehow finds room for an occasional moment of warmth too. A signature element is Karin Dreijer's remarkable voice, a ghoulish and androgynous creature that is as impossible to ignore as fingernails dragged across a blackboard: radically manipulated and filtered, it's a penetrating screech on “Like a Pen” and a transfixing wail in “The Captain.” (Interestingly, the vocals change so dramatically throughout, one starts to imagine that maybe different people were brought in; in fact, all of the vocals, even those instances where it sounds like the siblings dueting, emanate from Karin's throat .) Matching the incantatory vocal style is the content, with a song like “Na Na Na” both lullaby and nightmare, the gentility of its instrumental backing belied by a housewife's desperate admission “What I need is chemical castrations, hope and godspeed.” Even when The Knife veers into bucolic territory on “From Off to On,” an undercurrent of dread persists, as if the peacefully sleeping body might at any moment be violated by an eel-like organism slithering from its mouth. Intensified by kinetic synth arpeggios, a paranoiac mood permeates “Forest Families” too, especially with lyrics like “They say we had a communist in the family/ I had to wear a mask,” though the subsequent “Music / Tonight I just want your music” offers some hope of salvation. For the record, The Knife isn't averse to humour, as evidenced by couplets like “Spending time with my family / Like the Corleones.”

If the duo's lyrics arrest, their sinister music does even more. In the nightmarish title song, jackhammer handclaps thunder over a throbbing pulse and wiry synth chatter while the pair's vocals ooze barely-controlled hysteria. The handclaps return in “Neverland” but the similarities end there: if the title song is an austere plea, the latter is a pounding electro-punk anthem. Transport Abba to a decadent 1930s Berlin nightclub and you'll get some sense of the anthemic torch style of “Marble House.” “One Hit” updates Robert Johnson's nightmarish howl to the 21st century as a macabre, call-and-response electro-shuffle, while the clubber “We Share Our Mothers' Health” verges on bizarre arcade-breakcore. Ominous, bewildering, enigmatic, idiosyncratic, foreboding, grotesque—all such terms offer some hint of Silent Shout 's alluring electro-pop.

September 2006