Albums of the Decade: The Knife’s Silent Shout

12/18/2009 4:00 AM |

The 00’s were widely considered the decade where notions of “selling out” were finally put to rest for good; where the drain-circling music industry forced artists of good conscience to see the patronage of corporate advertising as a kind of benevolent grant money, funding grander and truer visions. Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, Swedish siblings who had been releasing alluringly strange pop music since 2001 as The Knife, were atypically reluctant to enter into this nu-Faustian bargain. Their cold, uncompromising 2006 electro masterpiece Silent Shout also happens to be one of the new commercial dynamic’s most irrefutable triumphs.   

Slightly annoyed by the indifference to their chilly first record (2001’s The Knife), the band made a conscious and fairly successful effort to integrate more popular styles into 2003’s still decidedly strange follow-up, Deep Cuts.  Hip-hop beats and Euro-disco decadence certainly caught more ears, and produced one of the decade’s truly sublime singles in “Heartbeats.” While that one got the chained-to-the-Internet set to take notice, it was a sighing cover version by folky countryman Jose Gonzalez that really brought their music to the masses when featured in a 2005 Sony commercial. Allowing its use was not a guiltless decision. In a 2006 Pitchfork interview Karin articulated her lingering unease: 

“We’ve never sold any of our own performed tracks to any commercials, so it was very hard for us. It doesn’t really feel that good, but the question came when we were in the middle of Silent Shout, and we didn’t have any money or anything, so it made it possible to continue working on the album, the videos and the live show. It made it possible to do quite a lot, but at the same time, it’s dirty money.” 

There are traces of that guilt all over Shout: references to “money that burns in my hand,” skeevy rationalizations for participation in pornography and reiterations of the profoundly universal, “some things I do for money, some things I do for free.” But, no one can slander the group by saying they didn’t make exactly the record they had intended, a set of songs which ended up as one of the most inhuman sounding, and yet bizarrely, emotionally affecting albums of all time. 

Reflecting dissatisfaction with the pop grab-bag of sounds that brought them wider attention, Silent Shout’s instrumentation is monolithically minimal techno. All of the music itself was generated by Olof Dreijer, a self-described “narrow-minded minimal techno DJ,” as an attempt to more accurately reflect the sounds he loved as a listener. Compared to previous work, the enveloping tone of the record is muted, nearly frozen. These full-but-icy pallette makes even the most kinetic, uptempo club beat seem like an expression of unfettered unease. Calling it gothic, or gloomy, seems like underselling. The landscape Olof creates is practically post-human. 

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