The Knife and the Sound of Evolution
There are three approaches I might have taken in evaluating The Knife‘s new outing Tomorrow, In a Year, a two-disc opera soundtrack commissioned by Danish performance group Hotel Pro Forma, yet I find myself confounded in each one:
1) As an opera — Unfortunately I have neither the context nor the vocabulary to talk about opera. I know. Bad music fan.
2) As a work of experimental music — The definition of “experimental” pretty much subverts or excludes all typical criteria for reviewing.
3) As an album by The Knife — This would be unfair, because Tomorrow, In a Year was not intended as such, much to the confusion of their longtime fans.
And for the honorable mention: I have never read Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, on which the opera is based. (Bad scholar!)
But even a year before Tomorrow was released, I was seduced by the very idea of the album: an experimental opera about Charles Fucking Darwin by a group who brought us the magnificent Silent Shout. The whole premise is sufficiently geeky. Before giving The Knife all the credit, it needs to be mentioned that the brother/sister duo are joined by Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, as well as Swedish pop-singer Jonathan Johansson and opera singer Kristina Wahlin. It’s strange to hear Johansson singing in English for a change — I still get a kick out of his Swedish-language cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
The first disc of Tomorrow is the hardest to listen to. It boasts minimal arrangements, glitchy and discordant swaths of synthesizer, staccato voices, bird sounds, and rainstorms. If we’re going for evolutionary thematics, it makes sense that there would be a “dark” period, as life slowly lurches into motion. But thematics don’t really take aesthetics into account — again, this is where talking about experimental work gets dicey.
Disc two is an easier journey. Disc two is where the slightly more traditional “songs” and “melodies” live, starting (kind of) with “Annie’s Box.” This also makes sense, evolution-wise; the music adapts as we move closer to the end, or, at least, the present. The already-released “Colouring of Pigeons” will likely garner the most affection, and deservedly so. It’s a beautiful, meandering song, appropriately sweeping and majestic (yes, operatic), featuring vocal turns by each of the participating singers. By the last track, “The Height of Summer,” the music has coalesced into something recognizable as pop music, and recognizably Knife-ish, as well. It’s probably safe to say that, taken on its own, the second half of Tomorrow, In a Year would make a pretty decent chill-out album with pretty melodies (the title track) and ambient beats (“Seeds). Listening to the full opera presents a dense experience with plenty of challenges, but everything goes down a lot smoother on the second spin. Previously unheard melodies take shape, and pieces that were intimidating at first feel more familiar. Personally, I would be very interested to see how the work plays out on-stage. Would anyone care to join me in an interpretive dance?
right-click: The Knife — “Colouring of Pigeons”
Tomorrow, In a Year is available for purchase as a digital download and/or CD pre-order through the Rabid Records store, or on iTunes.