Silent Shout: 10 Years After The Knife’s Influential Album, Pop Needs Another Paradigm Shifter
Silent Shout is our recurring roundup of the latest in alt-pop. It might not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.
The landmark album that gives this column its title turned 10 this week, on February 17. With Silent Shout, The Knife basically set the template for the ensuing decade of pop music. It can be heard in the technicolor synth-pop of Passion Pit and CHVRCHES, in Purity Ring‘s processed vocals and oddball electronic percussion, in The Weeknd‘s initial mystery and murk, in hip-hop’s Kanye-spearheaded obsession with warped mewling, in FKA twigs‘ feminist flexing and sexing. Silent Shout‘s impact is felt all across the current landscape; it is accurate, not hyperbolic, to call it visionary. Perhaps not since 1997’s Homogenic has there been such a clear “patient zero” album on this scale.
What’s most impressive about this is the counterintuitive way Swedish siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer achieved these progressive sounds that would go on to influence a generation of artists. On their third LP they struck a remarkable balance of contrasting forces, offering a collection of merge points between the brittle and the elastic, the off-putting and the inviting, the shiny and the dank, the human and the alien. Even the album’s title illustrates the project’s inherent contradictions.
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Using the cold tones of analog synths, they didn’t end up with a gritty minimal wave or industrial product. Instead, they extracted rich twilit textures and vibrant melodies out of the equipment. The title track’s throb-and-squiggle beat, the sparse, wintry twinkle of “The Captain,” the surround-sound plinks on “Like A Pen” and of course the syncopated synth storm of “We Share Our Mothers’ Health” all make plenty of modern synth-pop productions sound thin and derivative, despite the technological advantages current producers enjoy.
Plus, at a time when twee was synonymous with indie and pop was supposed to be a confection, the duo removed all humanness and brightness via severe vocal pitch-shifting. By taking emotional signifiers out of the equation entirely, they landed on this disembodied pop that was so sterile that the slightest sign of life was magnified, so dead-eyed and chilly it was invigorating, delivering lucid and forceful ideas that would’ve been harder to find under the obfuscation, if not for the fact that you couldn’t stop thinking about the thing you just experienced. Basically, it was Kubrick pop.
But after a decade, we need another Silent Shout to subvert the sounds and expectations of pop and gradually become the norm. So where will it come from? Are we already experiencing it? You could argue Kanye’s Yeezus will turn out to be that album for hip-hop. Or maybe 808s & Heartbreak already was. FKA twigs or Grimes could be on the verge of accomplishing something similar in broader pop. Or perhaps it’ll be a producer, someone like Arca or SOPHIE, who bounces between the center and the fringes, or maybe Rustie with his futurist laser-pop maximalism.
So as we theorize about the genre’s next phase, revisit the album that got all this Nordic ice pumping through pop’s veins, then read on for our latest batch of new alt-pop songs which we can almost guarantee are indebted to Silent Shout.
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Moderat — “Reminder” The German trio comprising Modeselektor and Apparat is prepping the release of third LP, III, out April 1. Lead single “Reminder” displays a nuanced balance of pop and techno, and it’s the sort of thing that can be naturally included in a discussion on a site like this because of how albums like Silent Shout expanded the genre’s boundaries.
Katy Gunn — “Hate (It’s A Bad Education)” This was one of those unexpected Soundcloud auto-play finds, so I know nothing about this artist. Utilizing only vocals and handclaps, upon first listen this track seems to be the polar opposite of The Knife, but it still stretches the human voice to its limits. Or maybe I’m just stretching looking for a connection.
Adesuwa — “One Only” The Queens singer floats along some retro electronic soul waves, like Blood Orange meets Sade. This standout is off her new, perfectly-titled Air Light EP.
Doprah — “Will I Be A Figure Eight” I’m not entirely sure what to make of these guys, but the ability to confound is always a welcome attribute. The New Zealanders have a truly terrible band name, but their sound is no joke, atmospheric night music that’s equal parts languor and dread. Their debut LP, Wasting, is out today (February 19), and it exhibits such a fully developed aesthetic that comparisons to heavyweights like Portishead, Massive Attack, Lana Del Rey, The xx and even Björk aren’t so outlandish.