“A cracked smile, a silent shout” – Silent Shout, The Knife.
I wanted to write a piece that no one else could. I wanted it to be personal, sharing a unique experience. It’s bold, It’s scary and I hope it doesn’t backfire. I’m not an established writer in the world of music journalism, nor am a ‘real’ writer by any definition. So, I lack a safety net.
I have no degree in Journalism or English, I only have my A-levels, GCSE’s and passion for both music and writing. I’ve never claimed to be a writer and I’ve never really believed in my writing because of self-criticism. Before I began to write for CAH/WPGM, my writing stayed in the confines of my desktop or in notes on my iPhone (yes, I’m one of those people). I began to share my writing on Tumblr and then I took the plunge of looking to get real, writing experience.
What I’ve learned is that it’s bloody hard work, it can sap your creative juices just a little bit because the demand for them is high. It’s ok though because I can write for hours but what happens when you hit a wall? What do you do? I turn to music, there isn’t a point in the day where I’m not listening to music (perhaps a slight exaggeration). Music is like a blanket for me, it wraps me up and tells me ‘everything is going to be ok’.
If I’m feeling sad I’ve got this genre or this artist. If I’m feeling excited, what about this artist? Oh wait no, this song, listen to this song and if I’m feeling FABULOUS? Well, I turn to the one true queen of Pop, of course. Carly Rae! Joking aside, I’ve relied on music heavily since I was young to teach me things, to help me get over the bumps along the way and to help me enjoy life.
I don’t really know a world without music and I find it really, really strange when people tell me they’re not that interested in music. I don’t condone violence but it gives me the feeling of wanting to put my hands round their neck, drag them away to a chamber and convert them A la Clockwork Orange, blame Kubrick, not me.
Anyway, what am I getting at? Right now I’m experiencing a period of difficulty and I’m finding it very hard to embrace the ‘fire in my belly’. However, there’s been a minor ‘breakthrough’. Before I tell you, I must confess that I wasn’t going to write a piece this week because I hadn’t the energy, nor the mental power.
I had all these ideas and a number of drafts to match but it wasn’t taking off. I felt guilty, I felt bad and I felt like I was letting myself and my editor down. I know, I know, I’m only human but still. I was trawling through my iPod as a last ditched attempt to find inspiration and voila! I chose to listen to The Knife’s magnum opus and critical darling, Silent Shout.
It’s one of my favourite albums and when I first heard it a few years ago, it opened up a world of music I didn’t know existed. This dark, quirky and oppressive, artsy-pop infused electronic music created by two mysterious Scandinavian siblings dazzled me, it was breathtaking. It tapped into my emotions and ever-since I’ve held it in high-regard. Once again, its helped ‘save’ me, this time from my creative stupor.
This is an appreciation piece of Silent Shout and what it means to me.
From a critical standpoint, I’m biased because of what I’ve previously said. However, there is something about the ethereal music The Knife created throughout their strange career. Their music is hypnotising and soothing. It takes my brain on a journey of downright weirdness.
Comparable to a person who does Acid and trips, hallucinating funky and wonderful things like Dragons and Unicorns solving world hunger, something like that anyway. (Disclaimer: To everyone who has tried Acid, I’m sorry my example isn’t up to scratch! Don’t trip on it. I’m a terrible, terrible human being).
The music they’ve created through the years is an antidote to negative emotions, their music itself isn’t necessarily sunshine and rainbows, it’s thunderstorms with volatile lightning striking from above while the thunder stampedes, echoing with ferocity. The Knife encapsulates the atmosphere of a dense forest, covered in snow with a semi-frozen river leading to a waterfall that trickles pieces of ice.
It’s that kind of feeling. It’s also a case of fighting fire with fire, it isn’t upbeat but it’s the air of melancholy which swells within their sound that is comforting. As soon as the first track (and title track) “Silent Shout” comes on, a sensation begins to spread throughout my body, a fuzzy warmth and so begins the journey of being grounded while simultaneously leaving my body. My mind escapes while my body feels present.
The distinct, thick instrumental of “Silent Shout” combined with the reverb soaked, pitch-altered vocals builds up a feeling of an imminent explosion. It builds to a climax which is the following track “Neverland”. A more uptempo track, it’s the complete opposite of “Silent Shout” vocally. It’s emotive and vibrant, while the synths still carry that moody weight.
The sheer density of the music is mind-blowing; the way the instruments are layered upon one another creates a captivating wall of sonic delight. Around two minutes in, the synth changes, becoming more high-pitched while the bass and drums punch away. The change in pitch is like a rallying cry, a call for optimism or self-belief, evoking triumph. Beneath it all, the lyricism adds to the poignancy.
After “Neverland”, the album takes a rollercoaster ride of atmosphere. It drops to a deep, suffocating level only to then propel to a buoyancy that is delivered at a break-neck pace. The instrumentals act as mirrors to human emotions, they capture all the chaos with everything in between. They take on the characteristics of elation, sadness and dare I say, madness.
Once we get get to “Marble House”, Silent Shout solidifies itself as a musical powerhouse. “Marble House” is quite possibly my favourite song tied with “Forest Families” (I’ll talk about that later). The former is beautiful. It’s sublime, resonating with me deeply. The synths and keys are otherworldly, yet they capture the sound of something earthly such as waves rising and crashing.
There’s an undercurrent of sadness coursing through the musical veins of Silent Shout, the sadness is omnipresent. “Marble House” is an example of the diversity that’s present throughout the eleven songs, however the album never entirely shifts outside of the overarching theme. “Marble House” is another example of though-provoking lyricism, being one of their more personal tracks.
Lines such as “I raise my hands to heaven for curiosity // I don’t know what to ask for // What has it got for me” capture the beauty of the track, there’s a real sense of vulnerability. It’s strikingly poetic. The song itself is about attraction/affection towards another, so it fits the structure perfectly. One of the aspects that I adore about this album (which you may have picked up on) is its nature.
The album is never static, it’s ever-changing from track-to-track. The soundscapes bounce from spectrum to spectrum while the electronic duo maintain a cohesive nature as the album progresses. After “Marble House”, we’re treated to a more sinister atmosphere with “Like a Pen”. There’s a sensual vibe attributed to it. From the seductive, smooth vocals delivered with a slight harsh tone coming together with a slow-building beat that erupts near the end.
It feels like audio seduction, a gradual build-up that slowly drags you inwards, grasping you and then like a Black Widow’s prey, you’re consumed. These two songs feel like opposites of each other, one about feelings towards another, which sounds genuine albeit unnerving while the other is a more care-free and pervasive, sexually-charged experience.
“Sharpen my body like a pen // Come on I need to show it // Something too small for a sense // If I rub it, if I wipe it // Guiding with one single hand // Nothing’s wrong, you like the feeling”.
“Like A Pen” gets the blood pumping again after the slow affair of “Marble House”, continuing Silent Shout’s masterclass of dichotomy in regards to atmosphere. At its core, it’s an exercise of portraying humanity through music. Some might argue that electronic music is far too ‘robotic’ or ‘cold’ sounding to convey any kind of emotion, let alone a hint of humanity. In some cases, that’s true.
However, The Knife possess a talent of bringing these inorganic, machine-made sounds to life and it’s extremely moving. The way the instrumentals have been created, they sound alive, the musical composition feels organic. The synths pulse alongside the drum kicks in a harmonious fashion; combining as if the instruments themselves are creating their own soundscapes. It doesn’t for a second feel barren or devoid of humanity. Silent Shout is a human experience in the form of music.
This is reinforced by the final track I want to talk about, “Forest Families”. This song in particular is a dramatic, visceral experience. There’s a prevalent feeling of urgency coursing through the electronic veins of the instrumental. Vocally, it sounds downtrodden and empty, there’s a feeling of longing during the chorus, while the verses are desensitised. Moreover, while the track builds from the beginning, it never reaches a climax and because of that, it’s a tense four minutes.
As a listener, you’re waiting and waiting for the electronic noise to rupture, combined with the threat of a shift in vocals. It doesn’t happen and it’s all the better for it, it’s both unsettling and stirring. It’s an example of the true beauty that music can encapsulate. “Forest Families” is a heavily-layered masterpiece, from the claustrophobic, tense atmosphere to the melancholy yet threatening vocals on a backdrop of mystical Nordic inspiration.
The musical journey of Silent Shout is magnificent and quite frankly, a display of perfection. From beginning to end, The Knife have created an album that truly stands the test of time and that’s because of the emotion, the passion and life behind it. It’s built upon a structure of vast creativity.
With Silent Shout, The Knife showed a fearlessness when exploring the underbelly of the human mind, it’s not a one-note experience. It isn’t wholly art, it isn’t completely carefree. There are splashes of unbearable darkness, and the wide array of tones and shades they combine on their musical palette is evidence of their unrelenting creative nature, not just as artists but as people, too.
Silent Shout embodies what it’s like to be alive and to feel Death’s cold hands at the same time, it’s a juxtaposition of the world we know, both light and dark. When I first heard the album it was an awakening and to this day, I find it as eloquent and gripping as ever. Silent Shout is the ‘deus ex machina’ to this millennium’s story of electronic music.
The Knife’s Silent Shout was released a decade ago, on June 26, 2006, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Jake Gould