The end of last week was emotionally tumultuous for superfans of godlike Swedish electronics duo The Knife, a club to which I am a non-objective, dues-paying member. (The second disc of that avant-garde synth-pop opera was soooo good, you guys!) The first single from Shaking the Habitual, their first proper album in almost seven years, popped up online, only it was in 30 second segments that you had to keep clicking, then it disappeared altogether, except it was on You Tube later, and then it wasn’t, and then their disturbing art film video clip for it was online. Then it wasn’t. Then it was again.
It was either an amazingly effective viral marketing campaign, or just a case of several obscure Scandinavian art websites not having their shit together. (Or both!) Anyway, “Full of Fire” has been online reliably for a few days now, and available for prolonged obsessing. And I love it. Listen:
It makes me want to make a giddy Buzzfeed-style post entirely out of triumphant Karin Dreijer gifs:
Wait, that got very creepy, very fast. I think I’m doing it wrong.
Let’s just talk about what’s great about it:
The new Knife song answers the age-old musical question “What if you could dance to ‘Hamburger Lady’?”
— Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) January 29, 2013
- While “Full of Fire” draws on sounds you’d identify with techno and industrial music, it doesn’t really sound like those old things, or anything else. You can’t get nostalgic when you really can’t think of something else a song sounds like. This is progress! (But that is a funny Tweet, for sure.)
- The BEEEEEEEEEEATS. For years now, tons of bands (like Purity Ring, to name one of the better ones) have tried to make a less skillful version of Olof Dreijer’s signature sound, letting dark, melodic synth beats drive their music. And while it’s not like this song ditches that tactic, it moves so far beyond it. It starts with a killer jackhammer techno beat and then layers those more-melodic rhythm touches higher and higher in a vertiginous stack that should make everyone really jealous of brother Olof.
- It’s pretty amazing, with the degree Karin Dreijer Andersson is always warping her voice, how distinctive she remains as a singer. She hides herself in machines, but it always sounds like her. She is magic. When hissing menacingly here, she still sounds sort of casually conversational, somehow.
- Besides making creepy, evocative dance music, The Knife have always been particularly interesting for the way they totally screw with our basic notions of sex and gender in pop music. Dreijer Anderson has gone to great lengths to disfigure herself in performance and for the press in perverse ways that seldom end with her looking glamorous. The trademark vocal warping adds to the sense of confusion.
Their lyrics have danced around complementary themes, but in a way that’s pretty submerged. (I touched on this and other aspects of their music at length a while back, if anyone’s interested.) With “Full of Fire” she seems to be making that persistent subtext into text, with a lyric sheet that pretty much has to be read as politically angry in ways that they usually aren’t.
- And then, of course, there’s the official video by feminist porn director Marit Östberg, which further pushes all sorts of uncomfortable buttons. It is officially not safe for any work environments, unless you work at some sort of bohemian death cult, in which case, go nuts:
- You still get a way in, though. The sounds on this thing are really brutal and disorienting, but weirdly not in noise-music’s usual off-putting, confrontational way. As tense as it is, you can slip into it. You’re gonna feel weird in there, but there’s room. (The part where she says, “liberals are giving me a nerve itch” really kind of sounds like a nerve itch? I don’t even know what I mean by that.)
- It ends on a demented Salt-N-Pepa joke! Who had that in the office pool?
- This is only the first taste of a 13-track, 100-minute record. They are not lacking for ambition, clearly, and that prospect is thrilling. April 9th seems very far away.