Albums of the Decade: The Knife's Silent Shout 

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click to enlarge ELIN BERGE
  • Elin Berge
The uncanny valley between how artificial these vocals can sound and the genuine human frailty they often convey is unsettling. Karin’s tone in “Na Na Na” is so high and warped that it can’t help but sound like a machine, even as she begins the song by asserting, “I’ve got soul, in my bones…” The song twists even further into digital abstraction from there as the details become even more uncomfortably human, touching on specific menstrual detail and deep sexual anxiety. Even the most attentive listener is given a pass for failing to suss out disturbing lines like, “I’ve got mace, pepper-spray/ And some shoes that runs faster than a rapist rapes/ What I need is chemical castrations, hope, and godspeed.”  The crawling closer, “Still Light,” presents an artificial duet between freakishly deep-voiced and childlike versions of Karin, suggesting distinct emotions in conflict during a harrowing hospital visit. It doesn’t sound robotic, exactly, but it’s certainly not a straightforward presentation of a delicate first person experience that could have easily slipped into overwrought sentimentality. 

Even the pitch-black record’s rare glimpse of something close to normal domesticity is delivered in an alienating chirp. “From Off to On” still has a few creeptastic lyrics suggesting some sort of prolonged medical situation (“we want happiness back/ we want control of our bodies”), but at its heart it’s about gathering around the TV, daydreaming about celebrities, and indulging in a little recuperative escapism. That a synthetic voice should also express these banal sentiments is a new wrinkle in electronic music. Kraftwerk leant meaning to their revolutionarily mechanized songs by lyrically identifying as machines, albeit bots with suspiciously Teutonic accents. Daft Punk entered the decade taking the make-believe further, positing that robots themselves could be the debonair playboys fulfilling a manufactured design to fill the dancefloor. Silent Shout’s cyborg protagonists go far beyond a focus on musical performance, suggesting that if machines were sensitive enough to create such affectingly dark music, they’d be beset by the same day-to-day reality, the same amount of interior dread, as any other convicted artist. 

While the record’s dystopian synth contours precondition a mental picture of a man/machine hybrid, the way the Dreijers themselves visually presented their songs suggest that they were aiming for other associations. In the aforementioned Pitchfork interview, Karin articulated her desire to distance the music even further from a standard autobiographical singer/songwriter reading, “It's fiction. A more unnatural way would be to stand there with your own face and with your private life-- that's not healthy or good for the music.”  That conviction was reinforced by scores of publicity photos taken in matching ink-black Venetian death masks. 

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