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The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims & Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In a Year

February 28, 2010

The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock - Tomorrow, In a Year

The Swedish electronic band The Knife have stayed busy since their last album, the widely praised Silent Shout, in their own ways. Karin Dreijer, as Fever Ray, released her self-titled debut last year to quiet but unanimous praise, Olof has worked under the name DJ Coolof and the siblings have managed their record label, Rabid Records. As a band that takes few cues from others and follow even fewer conventions, it’s no surprise that The Knife decided to release their latest album in the form of a collaborative work with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock as an opera written for the Danish performance group, Hotel Pro Forma. Tomorrow, In a Year is based on the life and work of evolution theorist Charles Darwin. It should be noted before I dive into talking about this album that not only do I have no prior experience with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, but their influence here is apparent. These songs are clearly influenced by these outside forces, though The Knife have a hand in writing each and every song.

First, I ask those involved with the overwhelming backlash towards this album, what were you expecting? The answer is probably more material like the leadoff single, “The Colouring of Pigeons,” which The Knife released a couple months back. With that said, it’s a bit of a cruel, leading trick that the Dreijer’s decided to release “Pigeons” before all else. A slow paced, developing operatic piece, one of the few things that the song has in common with prior Knife material are Karin Dreijer’s wispy, haunting vocals that don’t even come in until the piece is three minutes deep. In contrast, the piece has a goldmine worth of new concepts to introduce: a stacatto string section, echoing gongs, and breathtaking guest vocals. These elements build slowly to incredible heights, and ultimately the song might be The Knife’s finest achievement yet.

The Colouring of Pigeons

Barely anything else on the album is even remotely like “The Colouring of Pigeons.” In fact, it takes until the second disk for even any remotely traditional sounding song structures, and a vast majority of the album consists of glitch and noise music. This will be The Knife’s most divisive album; some people will dig what the Dreijers do here, and some people just won’t. Yes, of course a modern opera by The Knife was going to strange, abrasive and abstract. But it stands that they know how to construct such an album very intelligently, slowly developing washes of noise, 8-bit bleeps, subtle atmospherics and operatic vocals with care, the end result an album that keeps listeners either on the edge of their seats or walking out of the theater.

The best of these more difficult, progressive pieces are likewise quite subjectively excellent. “Minerals” and “Variation of Birds” sputter and whir over innovative and gripping vocal parts, but they share space comfortably with the likes of “Ebb Tide Explorer” and “Schoal Swarm Orchestra,” which explore more subtle ambient textures. Many of these contemporary, often times atonal classical pieces seek out their goals more through process and theory than listenability. The Knife travelled to areas of the world such as the Amazon and Iceland for inspiration on their work here, and some pieces match their environments closely (The liquidic synths on “Geology” are meant to emulate flowing lava), and others still represent the concepts involved with the works of Darwin, not stated as evolution but instead as his coined term “descent with modification.” The creative methods in which these tracks were both written and recorded goes on: Drums were recorded while moving underwater and in open, resonating spaces, and electronics are used to create animal sounds in random patterns. The lyrics in this album are often written in relation to Darwin’s documents or essays about his life. Music and lyrics are written about the earth, its creatures and its lifespan. This is by far The Knife’s most diverse set of ideas yet.

The Knife

Which leads us to the fact that not all of these ideas are fully theirs. Remember, The Knife were commissioned to write the music for this opera. They were given a set of concepts, ideas and presumably a stage script, and had to go from there when it came to writing and recording. It’s a wonderful surprise then to know that The Knife have made the project very much their own, crafting a set of ideas that have progressed far past their previous interests. No where on Tomorrow, In a Day will you find the previously explored themes of capitalism, gender studies, politics or fractured love. This album, even within its instrumental passages, explores themes of the Earth and its inhabitants, evolution, death, and the fantastic, turbulent life of a brilliant man. It is difficult to even think about asking for more.

The second disk of the soundtrack brings the progression of both the album and The Knife’s career into perspective, delivering more traditional song structures and focusing particularly on three pieces of about ten minutes each: the aforementioned “The Colouring of Pigeons,” the electro-gothic “Seeds” and the clattering, percussive “Tomorrow, In a Year.” All three pieces slowly shift their weights throughout their massive spans, uniquely and yet somewhat similarly fleshing out sonic narratives. On either side of the stretch of electronic epics are two more quaint pieces, the earlier “Tumult” a continuation of the first disk’s noise experiments and the latter “The Height of Summer” building a tribal groove.

Tomorrow, In a Year

The disk is bookended by two takes of “Annie’s Box,” a piece about the death of Darwin’s daughter Annie, which are melodically the same but fundamentally different due to their vocals. And vocals serve as one of the album’s key elements, among others as percussion and repetition. Voices haunt these tracks like phantoms both alive and dead, and the vocal parts were written for delivery by three performers, one an opera singer, another a pop singer and a third an actress. Seeing how vocals were treated on albums like Deep Cuts and Silent Shout, it is sensible that the vocals here are just as innovative. It is quite clear that the Dreijers have developed their music in leaps and bounds throughout their now long-spanning career.

It’s hard to say whether Tomorrow, In a Year will be a game-changer. For the new decade, it almost certainly won’t- It’s form of release is decidedly exclusive, and most people who do get their hands on it probably won’t even get past the first three songs. These facts are partially due to The Knife being and always having been elegant in their delivery and embracing of high art, even when they dealt with low art concepts on Deep Cuts. But for The Knife and company, as well as everyone who gives this music the time it deserves, Tomorrow, In a Year feels like giant leap forward, both stylistically and structurally. However, the fact remains that unless an accompanying DVD is released or Hotel Pro Forma tours extensively, the masses will mostly be left without the project’s visual component, which we can safely assume is as just as important as the aural. But for the majority of us who will never experience Tomorrow, In a Year in its fullest form, it’s jaw-dropping to think that the soundtrack communicates so much on its own.

You can listen to tomorrow in a year in its entirety at http://rabidrecords.com/tomorrowinayear/.

Tomorrow, In a Year

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