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The Knife

+ {Fever Ray}

Still relatively famous in the UK for folky JOSE GONZALEZ’s cover of their `Heartbeats track (as heard in Sony’s “bouncing balls” TV ad), Swedish brother-and-sister act Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Stockholm-based The KNIFE), have nevertheless achieved a degree success mostly on their own terms. Notoriously unwilling to engage with the mainstream media, The KNIFE didn’t perform live until the release of their third album proper in ‘06, and only allowed the aforementioned `Heartbeats’ cover to be used by a major in order to fund their own Rabid Records imprint, on which they have released all their own home-grown albums.
They formed The KNIFE in 1999 after Karin’s previous outfit, Honey Is Cool, failed to parlay critical appreciation into commercial success, although they have since remained wary of music industry machinations. The KNIFE’s eclectic, wonky electro-pop remains an acquired taste, although sales have proved much healthier, especially since their international, Swedish Grammy-nominated breakthrough in 2003 capitalised on the success of their most famous song.
Coming across something akin to BJORK, ART OF NOISE and er… NENA, their innovative off-kilter Euro beat-pop was instigated on the infectiously groovy eponymous debut, THE KNIFE (2001) {*7}. As much in development and an unadulterated work-in-progress (aiming toward something grittier in later times), Karin and her playful sibling explore their limits to the max on spacey and hypno-beats `Neon’, `Lasagna’ and the sprightly `Kino’. Tipping their hat to the great KRAFTWERK and The CURE respectively, `I Just Had To Die’ and `I Take Time’, were the chintzy twee cuts of the set.
Opening with, you guessed it `Heartbeats’ (a synth-pop jewel unlike JG’s take), DEEP CUTS (2003) {*8}, was a great deal friendlier by way of its shadowy, moody dance numbers; `Girls’ Night Out’, the calypso-styled `Pass This On’, `You Take My Breath Away’ and `You Make Me Like Charity’, on the other side of the spectrum to the ethereal `One For You’, the Kurosawa-ish `Behind The Bushes’ instrumental, the dirty ’n’ demented hip-hop `Hangin’ Out’, and the CAN-esque `Got 2 Let U’; she also unfolds her Darth Vader-like vocoder in with minute-cuts, `The Cop’ and `Hangin’ Out’.
The soundtrack to HANNAH MED H (2003) {*6} was the third full work by the Swedes. International fans may have recognised several cuts that were recycled as bonus tracks on the 2006 re-issues of their first two albums. However, 10 of the 16 tracks were exclusive to this release and they all are of comparable quality to both albums. Diverse and eclectic, sometimes bemusingly so, the tunes here range from DEPECHE MODE for fluoro kids (`Real Life Television’) to berserk Euro-disco (`Handy Man’ and `New Year’s Eve’), taking in nondescript ambience (`Copenhagen’) and “Twin Peaks”-aping 50s guitar (`At The Café’) along the way. The overwhelming feeling here was that most of these styles have been utilised better elsewhere, and The KNIFE only barely avoid invoking Wogan-at-Eurovison-style derision by dint of sheer variety. High N-R-G closer `Listen Now’ was a good litmus test for casual listeners, some of whom may be moved to tear off their own ears, while others will relish its gay abandon.
Branching further afield than the confines of their Stockholm apartments, the Dreijers came out of hiding in 2006, having inked respective separate deals with V2 in Europe, Brille in Britain and Mute in America. SILENT SHOUT {*7} was again dance-orientated with an Oriental-dance feel, albeit with darker, dreamscape touches that set them apart from any budding contemporaries. Almost eerie in comparison to their previous pop pitches, the duo impose their solitudinous sonics on atmospheric aural assaults such as Swedish hits, `Marble House’, `We Share Our Mother’s Health’, the nu-swing-beat `Like A Pen’ and the attendant title cut.
Tempted from out of the frosty lairs that befitted The KNIFE in all its trippy trials (she’d also just given birth to her second child), Karin Dreijer, under a pseudonymous billing, delivered her inaugural solo set, FEVER RAY (2009) {*7}. Augmented by either Christoffer Berg on co-production, or Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid, her fragile Scandic/Caribbean synthesis skip a beat or two on the nocturnal `If I Had A Heart’, the sentimental `When I Grow Up’, and her paean to “Showroom Dummies” in a Japanese shop window, `Now’s The Only Time I Know’. For lovers of covers, CD bonus tracks presented re-cuts of NICK CAVE’s `Stranger Than Kindness’ and VASHTI BUNYAN’s `Here Before’.
One had to admire The KNIFE’s anti-commercial approach when it came to finding fame and fortune. As with “Deep Cuts” in 2003, when they tracked the set with always-risky soundtrack/score, 2010 saw a flighty Darwinian opera in double-CD, TOMORROW, IN A YEAR {*6}. Shared with Mt. Sims and PLANNINGTOROCK (aka videographer Janine Rostron), the Danish theatrical commission, inspired by “Origin Of The Species”, also featured performance-art group, Hotel Pro Forma; if one’s looking to maintain a headache for a few extra hours, tracks-of-my-tears are best sampled on `Epochs’, `Geology’ and `Seeds’.
Taking a leaf from the book of alt/indie artists of the early 80s: The SLITS, RIP, RIG & PANIC, DANIELLE DAX, BYRNE/ENO, et al, Karin and Olof notched up their first international (Top 60) success with SHAKING THE HABITUAL (2013) {*7}. Another double-disc of BJORK-like tribal noodling and distortions, The KNIFE strip away their quirky pop rhythms to unveil an avant-garde direction, albeit something with blasts of bombastic beats that could probably strip artex from ceilings. But for a short-take drone or two, every epic slice of kooky cake here ventures into mind-numbing proportions. Their lives strictly in the bush of ghosts, the duo fully fulminate courtesy of `Raging Lung’ (their greatest 10 minutes of all-time), `A Tooth For An Eye’, the 9-minute `Full Of Fire’ and the colossus, `Wrap Your Arms Around Me’.
A long time silent, possibly too long, in order to re-establish herself back in the spotlight, Karin’s electro-pop alter-ego FEVER RAY finally dispatched her sophomore solo set, PLUNGE (2017) {*8}. Despite rave reviews for her efforts, sales were nowhere near levels gleaned by The KNIFE. However, as cutting edge and as sharp, there was no argument; prime examples ranged from kooky and spooky: `To The Moon And Back’, `IDK About You’, `Wanna Sip’, `Mustn’t Hurry’ and `Red Trails’ (the latter concerning a vampiric love affair).
© MC Strong 2008/SW-LCS // rev-up MCS Apr2013-Oct2017

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