The Knife

[youtube=]I have a new problem. I just discovered this band that I love more than anyone. Their music is sad yet hopeful and happy, strange and electronic yet warm. However, they only have 3 CD’s out. And I’m pretty sure that I only really like one of the three, based on what I’ve heard on youtube. What’s more, they don’t give concerts. So my entire history as a music fan (and I’ve been into some pretty good bands) has been reduced to one band with one album and no obvious influences or genre that I can tap into for similarities.

Still, I’m very happy I found The Knife. They were exactly what I needed at the time, something dark, electronic, cold, warm, menacing, funny, and new and futuristic sounding, sung by people wearing medieval plague beaks; a band full of paradox who sings in metaphors so that you can kind of decipher their meaning, but not completely. You are left believing that they hold the key to the mysteries of the present age – like the musical equivalent of a David Lynch film. For example in “We Share our Mother’s Health” (the video turned me on to them) there are strange images of cartoon children stabbing each other with bloody medical instruments. It’s Japanese made and looks like something my 8 year old could get into, kind of like Manga. The video is horrid in an Edward Gorey sort of way, yet the song is very endearing and reminds me of my children, especially when they are being little monsters.

Listening to “Silent Shout” suddenly relegates all of the other music I’ve been listening to lately – Joy Division, Stranglers, Nick Cave, Wire, to the oldies bin. Those are great artists, and many will argue that they are better than the Knife. But the Knife has transported me over the horizon into a new musical era. They are more like film directors than rock stars. They change their voices to be different characters – a scared housewife, TV addict, children.

They also use “we” a lot in their songs:

We share our mothers’ health
It is what we’ve been dealt
What’s in it for me?
Then I’ll agree

or “Forest Families”

Too far away from the city
We came to breathe clean air
Nature lovers’ safe oasis
And the mothers walked towards the forest

It’s that “we” that fascinates me so much. Is it the “we” of humans on a dying planet? Is is the collective “we” of
socialist Sweden? The “we” of faceless Chinese workers silently sickening their lakes and air so we can have lots of
stuff over here in America? The Knife’s sadness makes me think of all these things.

There is something very emotional sounding to the Knife. I haven’t heard anything that makes me sadder in a long time, or at least not since my article on the sadness of techno. “We Share our Mother’s Health” could be about the health of our sick planet. Or maybe it’s just about biology and the fragility of life in general. “The Captain” is about the new era of constant war, which we dumbly accept because there’s nothing else to do and we have 800 channels at home to watch it on.

And speaking of channels, “From Off to On” is a song that needs to be heard. It’s sad and distant sounding, an anthem for a new species of rodent-like humans who want a warm cozy little hole to enjoy their glowing screens when they come home from work. We are busy uploading videos to youtube and writing these blog articles so that one day we’ll still exist post-human, in electronic form after the planet is destroyed.

And there is something Chinese-sounding to the Knife, whether they intended it or not. The thin, high vocals in “Na Na Na” sounds like the Chinese opera, and the keyboard sounds in “The Captain” remind me of the slow courtly sound
of a Chinese plucked instrument. But maybe it’s just because the Knife seems so futuristic to me and China is also a place of the future.

The Knife website (really beautiful images)

We Share our Mother’s Health video