On first listen, Silent Shout, the third album from The Knife (Swedish siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer) sounds something like Cate Blanchett using her affected Lord of the Rings voice to shriek goth poetry over the MIDI theme song from Beverly Hills Cop. It’s a first impression that the album eventually shakes, as the subtleties of what The Knife have accomplished on Silent Shout become clearer with each of the repeated listens that the album demands.
The most common and most significant knock against electronic pop is that the reliance on synthesizers and computers to create the music results in music that is at odds with the use of human voices singing human-written lyrics, and there’s a challenge in overcoming that fundamental disconnection. An artist like Alison Goldfrapp, for instance, adopts a detached, aloof vocal style that casts her as an ice queen as often as it comes across as sexy, but it’s a style that doesn’t conflict with the music that’s backing her. What has made Radiohead so compelling for the past decade is that the rift between humanity and technology has been one—if not the—driving force behind their albums, starting with OK Computer and running through Thom Yorke’s solo outing The Eraser.
What Silent Shout does with remarkable success, like Radiohead’s Kid A or Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump, is foreground the cold-blooded calculation of its technological origin while still capturing emotions that are recognizably and powerfully human. With Olof composing melodic hooks that play over stuttering, often unpredictable dance beats and basslines and with Karin’s tinny vocals multi-tracked and distorted in extreme directions on each song, The Knife takes the kind of musical risks on Silent Shout that simply aren’t possible with traditional instruments. The result is an album of catchy dance music that conveys an atmosphere of dread.
In that regard, the severe distortions of Karin’s vocals—shifted upward an octave on “The Captain” and multi-tracked with a ghoulish effect on the title track—only heighten the feeling that the songs on Silent Shout tell the stories of lives that have gone very, very wrong. But it’s her lyrics—from the oblique references to prostitution (on “Neverland”) and abortion (on haunting closer “Still Light”) to the decidedly less vague “Na Na Na” (“I’ve got mace, pepper spray/And some shoes that run faster than a rapist rapes/What I need is chemical castration, hope, and godspeed”)—that keep the album consistently grounded in the difficult emotional territory of regret, rage, and fear. Both in form and in content, Silent Shout is bleak, heady stuff made all the more subversive for the fact that it still emerges as a catchy dance album.