Pointed pop

By NICK SYLVESTER  |  November 14, 2006

Maybe I’m making the Knife out to be melodramatic. And that’s unfair. There is humor here, nothing so much in the form of a joke, but laughter born of discomfort. During “Marble House,” an enormous, probably Swedish head “floated” off stage and mouthed some of the song’s words before deteriorating into a skull. There are lyrics that seem to make reference to the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel,” and the Knife have admitted in interviews that they cracked themselves up a number of times in the making of Silent Shout, what with all the vocoding, all the schmaltzy eight-bit RPG chord progressions at the heart of songs like “Na Na Na,” all the Kate-Bush-gone-wrong club-industrial pounds of “Neverland.” If nothing else, dark dreary music that backdrops a retelling of a fairy tale is pretty funny stuff.

Mid set, during “Marble House,” I fainted. Just dropped. I was unconscious, I’m told, for about a minute. Jelena dragged me through the crowd, and when I snapped back, I vomited. I don’t mean to be too sensational about this. I hadn’t had much to eat before the concert, and I’ve been having panic attacks lately. After the fact, I usually explain it all away, but it’s increasingly hard to laugh off the ER bills.

I hesitate to assign a value to all this, but I wonder to what extent that Knife show was the limit of my existing ironically — the endzone for how much I can write off and explain away before I stop underestimating objects and am forced to deal with unmediated experiences. Before “uncomfortable” turns to vomit. Think of all the ironic deflections masquerading as insight here: the Jack/Meg “are they really siblings” stuff, the Blue Man Group allusion, the remark about a song based on “Hansel and Gretel” being “pretty funny stuff.” I wonder whether that’s my way of avoiding the disgusting truths of this music, the latter-day paralysis it depicts: “Wish I could speak in just one sweep/What you are and what you mean to me/Instead I mumble randomly.”

At a certain point — I don’t know when and I doubt many people even care — I wonder whether we can move beyond the “Hey look I get it, it’s ‘Hansel and Gretel!’ ” type of listening experience that turns albums into word-find-like whodunits and songs into soundbytes and ask ourselves why a story like “Hansel and Gretel” exists in the first place, let alone why we’re still talking about it. Plus, beyond the technophobia, and the pomo paralysis, and the communications-breakdown undertones, Silent Shout’s other devastating reminder is that all recorded music is a lie. No recording, even the simplest, cleanest singer-songwriter acoustic studio session, is without compression on the microphone, slight distortions — deceptions — from the tape. To say nothing of the fact that music is itself a crutch. It’s much easier to say “I love you” with a well-placed chord to tame the blush and an untrained voice to make it sound real (i.e., “from the heart”). These as are much affects as the Dreijers’ contorted vocals; no sound is untreated, unwrenched. No, that’s not news, but Silent Shout is a prime cut. From “From Off to On”: “We cannot wait much longer/We want happiness back/We want control of our bodies/Everything we lacked/I think I even liked it/If the feeling was mine.”

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