Book Review

Weanée Kimblewood

The Knife:
Tomorrow, In A Year

Audio CD (March 9, 2010)
Original Release Date: 2010
Number of Discs: 2
Label: Mute
Price: 17.00 EUR

A stodgy interpretation of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”
Asthmatic Rooster, playing Video Games

Karin Dreijer-Andersson and Olof Dreijer may appear weird, but that’s nothing compared to the music they dream up. Photo: Elin Berge

The new extravaganza by Swedish pop duo The Knife scares main stream music listeners but enraptures electro pop and techno aficionados.

“Weird” is an inadequate way to describe what’s happening on the new album Tomorrow, In A Year, recently published by the Swedish synthpop duo The Knife. For example, track 7, called “Variation of Birds”, features an endless ear-battering digital alarm clock followed by an asthmatic rooster playing an arcade video game (Cock-a-doodle-doo! – Eeeeeee!-Whack…jingle-jingle – Cock-a-doodle-doo!).

Weird? You bet! Quirky? Definitely!

However, it gets worse. When listening to track 8, entitled “Letter to Henslow” – a flock of gaggling electronic chickens suddenly mutates into barking cuckoos (Beep-beep-beep-beep…woof-cuckoo-woof!). The relaxing impression of idyllic grassland which follows in the “Schoal Swarm Orchestra” (track 9) only lasts a few moments before the illusion is broken by industrial noise that interferes with the shrill and screeching din of braking trains. Whew! A moment later, the “Colouring of Pigeons” might lead the unsuspecting listener to the conclusion that the singer is suffering from severe spasmodic hiccups.

Darwin’s opus as a synthpop opera

While it’s quite evident that the 16 new songs by The Knife are anything but easy going, why should we review the album instead of, say, a textbook on biochemistry? The answers are quite simple. To begin with, Lab Times has a weakness for the unorthodox, and secondly, it’s about an issue that might very well be of interest to our readers. Tomorrow, In A Year is a musical translation of Charles Darwin’s magnum opus from 1859, On the Origin of Species.

Commissioned by the Danish performance theatre group Hotel Pro Forma, The Knife’s mastermind Karin Dreijer-Andersson wrote an electro-opera based on Darwin’s classic book in close collaboration with two Berlin-based artists of modern dance music. The opera had its debut at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theatre in September 2009, and performances followed in Geneva (Switzerland), Dresden (Germany), and Århus (Denmark). At the same time, Dreijer Andersson and her brother, Olof Dreijer (aka The Knife), teamed up with three professional vocalists and the Icelandic percussionist, Hjorleifur Jonsson, to produce a 92-minute studio album version, which was released on March 1st, 2010.

Difficult to digest in the beginning...

Against the light of the Darwinian background, Dreijer-Andersson’s stodgy tunes mutate into more plausible sound patterns. A good example is the CD’s first song, “Intro”. On a first listening, we hear little more than peculiar clicks and an odd noise that sound as if the CD’s audio track has been damaged. This “noise”, however, can also be interpreted as an aural version of the primordial soup – beginning with silence and developing into gently pearling drops of water (the “clicks”). A thunder storm (the “noise”) then approaches from afar to send flashes into the water, thus contributing the electric energy required to create organic compounds. Et voilá! – Stanley Miller’s pioneering experiment from the 1950s as a pop song!

In the following tracks we observe antediluvian amoebae crawling out of the loud speakers and we hear the mighty groaning of tectonic plates. All the while the Swedish born mezzo-soprano Kristina Wahlin sings her arias with a bell-like voice. Sometimes Tomorrow, In A Year sounds like a 1980s Jean Michel Jarre album played backwards and at others it resembles a postmodern performance of acts like Kraftwerk, The Notwist or Laurie Anderson.

Other songs, however, are nearly “conventional” (but definitely gorgeous), such as the 11 minute opus “Colouring of Pigeons” and the balladesque “The Height of Summer”. Generally, one shouldn’t be too hasty about pressing the stop button, because most of the songs (such as “Seeds”; “Tomorrow in a Year”) only unveil their mystique after the last note has faded away.

All things considered, The Knife’s somewhat strange “evolution-set-to-music” might scare the archetypical rock music listener, but will enrapture music aficionados with a more open mind.

Letzte Änderungen: 29.07.2013