Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Knife - Tomorrow, in a Year

Swedish electro duo Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olaf Andersson, better known as 'The Knife' have returned with an experimental collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock.'Tomorrow, in a Year' is not the usual pulsating Nordic electronica. If that's what you expect then you will be disappointed, or maybe intrigued as I was; an electro opera based on Darwin's ''Origin of the Species' will no doubt leave the more staid electro pop fans wondering what the 'noise' is, the more forward thinking weirdly fascinated by the 'evolution' of this quirky and eccentric merge of science and art.

This deeply experimental album evolved after Pro Forma, a Danish performance group commissioned 'The Knife' to create the music and libretto for their opera. If you listen and wonder what on earth it's all about, the thought 'watch it performed' springs to mind. The opera includes appearances from mezzo-soprano Kristina Wahlin, Danish actress Laerke Winther and Swedish pop artist Jonathon Johannsson. 'Tomorrow in a Year' is definitely a concept album you will love for its 'bonkersness' or get cross about it as you crave the 'Darlings of Electro's' 'Silent Shout'.

CD1 is full of birdsong patterns and feedback, a result of Olaf's field studies in the Amazon to record and watch life. The intro to this menagerie of nature sounds, in layman's terms, sounds like a tap dripping but more importantly the 'beginning of life'. The next eight tracks offer more of the same, playing around with sounds, you can hear the collaborative effort to seek out animals with musical qualities in a bid to compose new and interesting electronic sounds, clever if difficult to listen to at times.

'Variation of Birds' uses feedback sound to demonstrate how a bird learns to sing, starting with one note that evolves and changes, note the 'theme' but not one for your headphones. 'Geology' is music to portray the movement of lava apparently...and 'Letter to Henslow' uses the human voice as an instrument, all very intriguing but not the stuff of electronic hits, something which it would seem is not a priority of The Knife anyway.
CD 1 is the evolutionary process of music, of course, it is a Darwinist Electro Opera after makes sense that the more accessible is on CD2 for this album, a change from the norm when the preparation for the album usually turns up in the bonus CD.

Moving swiftly to CD2, the more accessible of the double album. It starts with 'Annie's Box' and ends with the same track but with alternative vocals, a haunting track about the death of Darwin's daughter, beautiful and sombre and after the science of CD1, the emotion of this is a relief. Both versions are mesmerising, the birdsong, the drumming and the spooky vocals are a shift away from the previous experimenting, but you can hear the continuity from the first CD as you recognise some of the sounds they created.

'Tumult', is the most operatic intro and leads into 'Colouring of Pigeons'. Taken from Darwin's study of pigeons, the title hints at the naivety of their approach and acceptance that you don't have to understand it all . The middle part of this track is the more recognisable electropop sound of The Knife, the familiar voice of Karin then returning to the operatic feel of the beginning, a clever merging of the two musical genres and the gem of this album.

In 'Seeds' again you can hear the beginnings of a more recognisable The Knife. The more traditional electro fan would prick their ears, hopefully long to stay with it until 'Height of Summer', the only vaguely possible mainstream success of the album, almost teasing in its familiar electro 'catchiness'. To some, the electronic glitches may lead to the conclusion this is a 'avant-garde' concept album disaster so make sure you put CD2 on first.
'Tomorrow, in a Year', released on March 1st is experimental, sometimes hard going yet interspersed with genius. The Knife's project is certainly interesting, bought as an album standing alone it might be hard to fathom out but with the ideas behind it makes some weird sense.

The Knife have been known for their darker art pop before, especially Karin as 'Fever Ray', so let's hope similar artists continue with the same musical curiosity and give us a much needed break from the universally loved but predictable bubblegum electro.

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