They came from The North

March 2, 2007 / Praise be to Sweden for bringing us The Knife.

[The Knife’s Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson]
The Knife. Image: Elin Berge.

It’s indulgent to say this about a stack of CDs, but I really needed to find The Knife. I’d first read about the Swedish siblings’ 2003 album Deep Cuts in a Pitchfork review and it had stuck with me so well that it was one of the few records fresh in my mind each time I stepped into a record store. Looked in vain for a while, whenever I passed the Ks. A few weeks ago I finally found their first album (The Knife, 2001) at Cutler’s Records—and then I really did need more. Since technology makes it possible to double-click new stuff from a warehouse into your home I now have all three albums, including 2006’s Silent Shout.

I consider this kind of music electropop, but it’s different from the other artists I’ve given the label to (e.g. Goldfrapp, Röyksopp, The Sugarcubes, White Town) and it took a while to feel they belonged there. The Knife takes this genre to a foreboding, shadowy place and although some of their loops and melodies achieve the velvety deliciousness of their contemporaries, the general tenor of The Knife keeps you on more of an edge (sorry, I had to say that). This effect is as much in the lyrics as in their sound. The Knife’s themes are oedipal (“I’m in love with your brother, yes I am, but maybe I shouldn’t ask for his name”), anxious (“She does it all the time, making mistakes and then I’ll ease her mind”), politically challenging (“Is it medicine or social skill?”) and socially disturbing (“I took a cab there to hold her, I took a plane there to feel what she felt—you make me like charity, instead of paying enough taxes.”)

The Knife’s aesthetics are sinister and foreboding, like if Autechre turned to pop and started writing words. Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer appear masked and distorted in photographs, and their sonics and imagery evoke artists like Aphex Twin and Chris Cunningham. There’s a hardness in here, both technical and emotional, that you wouldn’t expect in electropop, a brittle theme that contrasts with the subdued incantations and rounded synth sounds more distinctive of the genre. You can’t chill out to The Knife. But you won’t be able to relegate them to the background. Even their quietest tracks will wind their way back into your consciousness, like when someone turns off the TV and you suddenly hear the silence.

Edited to add: Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice was driving Elena crazy yesterday because she was sure she had heard it before. Today she found the answer: Dreijer Andersson is the singer in Röyksopp’s amazing “What Else is There?.” (The floating woman is model Marianne Schröder. Dreijer is the figure at the table about two-thirds of the way through the video.)

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