Knife, The – Tomorrow, In A Year

It’s been a while since I’ve heard such an ambitious offering from, well, any artist. There have been some pretty big outings, whether it’s 1999’s 69 Love Songs or as recent as the conceptual brilliance of 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Great Destroyer?, hell even last years Embryonic. But it has been quite a while since I’ve heard something as completely different as Tomorrow, In A Year. The jump Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer make from Silent Shout and Andersson’s solo outing Fever Ray is just plain astounding. They’ve been known for being unpredictable, whether it’s the protesting of award shows, their almost complete alienation of the outside world, the steel drum on Deep Cuts (Believe me, it’s worth mentioning). But this collaboration with German DJ Mt. Sims and infamous performance artist/crazy person Planningtorock is going to split the crowd more than their experimental masterpiece Silent Shout.

First and foremost, this is a double album. More so, this is a double album based upon Charles Darwin’s (Ever heard of him? He’s kind of famous I guess) On the Origin of Species, which is basically the initial theorizing of species evolution based upon Natural Selection. It’s a controversial subject, but when compared to Venetian Masks and winning 6 Grammi’s and denying them the right of your presence, it fits right into the Knife’s grand scheme to completely ostracize the music industry. However, if there is one thing that Tomorrow, In A Year is not, it’s easy; this is not an easy album to listen to. This is not a statement on the album’s quality, but rather of it’s style and length. Didn’t blink an eye at Illinoise? Well, imagine the same length being dedicated to a largely ambient Avant-garde album.

This is an amalgamation of Electronic, IDM, Ambient, Noise, Drone, and Dance that makes for an interesting, if not really what most would call, riveting listen. This is not the kind of album where you could pop it in while driving to the store, nor is it a Merzbow album where you’d better have the aspirin right next to you. Rather, this is an experience in the same way a Sunn 0))) album is an experience, where you sit down, turn off the lights, and just imagine. Basically, the entire first album is Drone/Ambient noises with the occasional powerful Opera voice to spice things up. The only clue to the song’s meaning and as to what each tone and sound could mean is the titles, like “Variation of Birds” or “Letter to Henslow”. To describe any of the songs on the first album would be like trying to explain a performance art piece; it can’t be done.

However, the second album is a completely different beast. Here, we get the next evolution of the Knife as a band, and this is where the album truly shines. The first album may make for a pretty interesting listen, but the second album is where Tomorrow, In a Year truly shines. On the disc, we get 6 songs of pure, unadulterated genius, and this is where the Knife really take over the album. If the first disc is all about the Knife and Planningtrock doing an experimental stage piece, the second album is about the Knife and Mt. Sims doing what they do best; rocking the house. However, unlike previous outings by Andersson and Dreijer, they display a stylistically-varied approach on almost every song, whether it’s IDM (“Seeds”) or Tribal/Exotic New Age (“Colouring of Pigeons”). Almost every song is a success, especially when listened to in conjunction with the first album.

See, the strength of the first album is that it provides a wide arrangement of ambiance to create an immersive experience, one where your consciousness slowly drifts from you and you enter the album’s odd, sometimes hostile world. However, when the disc changes, “Annie’s Box” gives you a taste of the “musical” aspect that the disc contains, with a wandering tone drifting around the Opera singer, along with a string arrangement to pull you out of your subconsciousness. Suddenly “Tumult” comes in, an almost completely percussion-based track, with hissing, swirling shakers that sound like snakes hissing all about. Just when the track hits one minute left, the alluring beat comes in. A gong smacks, the a voice breaths, and “Colouring of Pigeons” has begun.

“Colouring of Pigeons” is by far the best track the Knife have ever laid down. Better then “Heartbeats”. Better than “Silent Shout”. Better than “Like A Pen”. This is the essence of Tomorrow, In a Year distilled into one track. The layered, completely physical beat begs to be clapped and finger snapped with, the backing synth drones and adds a fog of atmosphere to the track, as multiple vocal tracks breath in and out with the beat. When the song hits the metallics and stops for a moment, Andersson enters, her voice a beautiful, atmospheric respite from the almost completely instrumental offerings of the album before. The song expands and expands, adding percussion, claps, hollows, Dreijer’s smooth, single male presence, and at 11 minutes, the song goes by like it was less than half that length. This is by far the centerpiece of the album, especially when comparing it’s alow, “late to the party” effect that just sends you through the roof, especially after nearly 40 minutes of build up.

“Seeds” sounds like Mt. Sims and Dreijer really took over, with an IDM-influenced sound that represents one of the single electronic tracks on the album. It’s a wonder of minimalist techno, owning much to contemporaries like the Field, and the vocal arrangement that hits near the last half of the song sends it away on a high note. The heights seen by the title track is just as arresting, with an almost unbreakable focus upon the tribal drums and deep bass hits. When “Heights of Summer” comes in, the effect is a bit dizzying. Representing the single time Planningtorock takes over lead vocals, the song is an oddly traditional Electopop song, but while the odd placement of the song is a bit awkward, the song is anything but skippable. On the digital release, the track “Annie’s Box (alt. vocals)” is present, which is just a remix of the first track of the second disc. While not necessary in any way, it does represent a nice bookend of the second disc, and a great way to end the album.

Tomorrow, In a Year is a long, arduous, challenging, album. At least the first half of it is. Basically, the two halves, while not really inseparable, represent a new direction for the Knife, and to some extent Mt. Sims (Not really Planningtorock). While the first disc may be considered skippable by some, it is by no means a bad album. It’s just that its contents are so different from anything heard from the group, not to mention that it’s largely Ambient/Drone, which isn’t exactly the most welcoming genre. Whatever your feelings on the first disc, the second disc is terrific; a stirring mix of genre influences and a broad palette of physical percussion tracks that fit terrifically into the subject matter of the album (with percussion being the most primal and basic of all sound in music). Believe me, no one will look at you funny for skipping straight to the second disc, and on this album, that’s a great compliment.

Score: B+

by Trevor “Did you hear them cawing birds” Johnson


1 Comment

  1. New Stuff For Everyone on 2/7/10! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] The Knife – Tomorrow, In A Year Review, by Trevor Johnson […]

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