Dusted Down – The Knife: Silent Shout (Rabid)
Sharp as ever
In a year so smitten with ‘80s post-punk and ‘90s electronica, an album billed as “Siouxsie Sioux meets Aphex Twin” surely stands the test of time, right?
Rabid Records seem to think so. Currently reissuing a number of The Knife’s early records, they’ve finally gotten to ‘Silent Shout’ – the band’s most famous – on limited violet vinyl. Abandoning their formerly bubbly sound, this album is for the less faint of heart. Vocals became menacing, arpeggiations haunting, production dark and stark. While coursing through nightmare realms of techno and EBM, Karin Dreijer’s vocals seem to scream out and harken after the demonic, trigger-happy on the pitch shifter and talkboxed layering.
‘Silent Shout’ is both a frustrating and frustrated record. Dividing fans who sought the no-stress entertainment of their earlier work, it just as aptly wrangled at the pacifying nature of the TV and its place in society. In 2016, as part of a 10 years’ anniversary retrospective for The Fader, Karin said: “When you feel really shitty, you go home and you turn on the TV and it will ease your pain for a little while. And also the isolation—instead of running out from our houses to act, a lot of people stay at home instead. I think a lot of the tracks are about a numb feeling. I mean, I hate a lot about this society. And I hate that the structures themselves try to do their best to make you numb and passive. The oppressive power structures benefit even more when you stay home in front of the TV.”
‘Silent Shout’ is unashadmedly electronic, whereas many of the influences going into the former projects weren’t. Take, for example, ‘Deep Cuts’. A casual punter might think Calvin Harris or Sylvester were influences on it; it has maximalized electro house production, disco-ball arps and pop ready starkness. These are all trademarks of The Knife’s sound, but it could be argued that they hadn’t delved into them boldly enough. They were using vocal effects, but were they layering them to full demonic effect? Their production was scratchy and abrasive, but was it chaotic enough?
To The Knife, technology is like a mask for real feelings; whether that be represented – during this career highpoint – by the bird masks they wore onstage, or the vocal effects that masked their own voices, egolessly. With this in mind, the subject matter of ‘Silent Shout’ gets even more unnerving. Its final moment, ‘Still Light’, consists purely of an eerie synth and Karin’s elven vocals tripled up in harmonic assembly. The lyrics – “I was so concentrated / on keeping things together / Now where is everybody / Is it still light outside?” – are a taunted mantra, describing the thought process of a character who was so focused on using technology as a crux that they have now become permanently ‘blind’.
Such a conclusion paints a negative picture of technology, which lends a real irony to The Knife’s choice to work with synthpop: which is, as musical genres go, the essence of techno-musical harmony. These contradictions play out throughout – the urgent, industrial illbience of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ speaks of life’s fragility, and a sex worker’s fear of suddenly losing everything, despite the possibilities for growth – “Trees there will be / apples, fruits maybe”. Our favourite curiosity, meanwhile, is ‘Marble House’, which posits the claim that it “must be safe / When it’s on TV”; here, the TV and other technological vices accompany a young, codependent couple in their journey out from inadequacy into eventual salvation.
Released in 2006, ‘Silent Shout’ was released largely before smartphones were a thing – and is arguably more relevant to our times than it was back then, given the addictions, derealisations and manipulations that can arise out of improper, addicted tech use today. But besides all our speculative meanderings into the album’s meaning, Silent Shout is, besides, a revolutionary album in terms of its production. It put The Knife on the map, and cemented Olof Dreijer’s reputation as an impeccable producer who would be copycatted for years to come.
Jude Iago James