If you’ve followed my music reviewing very long, you know about the December Scramble. A lot of albums get put on the back burner when I hear one that really catches my fancy, and when people start writing their end of the year lists, I jack up my album downloading and run through all the records people have been talking about. It’s how, in 2006, I got around to Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet, TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain, and Hot Chip’s The Warning. In that scramble, The Knife’s Silent Shout floated across my desk.
To say that I hated it would be an all too mild understatement. So powerful was my teenage hatred of the record that I gave up listening to musical criticism for months following — I mean, how could a website like Pitchfork be trusted if they enjoyed a record such as this? And still, every few months, I would try to see what it was. And every listen, I would get to “The Captain,” the third track on the album, and just give up on trying to grin and bare the cheesy synths and distorted vocals. There has never been an album before it, and after it, that made me angry to listen to.
Then, late one April evening, I grew tired of my dishwasher failing to clean dishes, a problem which didn’t make sense due to the age of the beast (less than a year). I decided to try and fix it again.
Then, “Marble House” came on as I gashed my finger open. Sitting there with my finger gushing blood, wrapped in a paper towel, Olof Dreijer sang:
“You close my eyes and soothe my ears / You heal my wounds and dry my tears / On the inside of this marble house I grow / And the seeds I sow will grow up prisoners too”
Something, I don’t know what, clicked in my head. Four years of trying, and all it took was getting a few songs farther than I had managed previously. Strangely, at this point, I cannot place exactly what I hated about the album so furiously, for the lyrics are nothing short of Bjork-like (not an insult), and the synths are as dance-worthy as anything going right now.
After listening a few times, another landmark clicked for me: “We Share Or Mother’s Health,” it’s groove throbbing in the blackness and Karin Dreijer Andersson howling into the wind. Olof, again, began to taunt me:
“Say you LIKE IT, say you NEED IT, when you DON’T.”
I don’t quite think I was meant to truly enjoy Silent Shout. In fact, with the previous line, I think The Knife deliberately wanted to see how far they could push public opinion into the space of bizarre and alien. The heavily distorted and whispered vocals on “From Off To On” seem to suggest that Silent Shout may have been an exercise in envelope-pushing IDM mixed with vocal defilement, with little or no care if the end result was viable for popular sale. Then again, that’s exactly what Kurt Cobain thought everyone would feel about In Utero before its release, so I can’t ever be too sure who’s going for “nigh unlistenable” rather than “really weird.”
Over four years after its release, I’m here to say that Silent Shout is by no means unlistenable, and still likely is an attempt at defiling the human voice as much as possible. However, it turns out, this can be the best thing imaginable, and it was worth the frustration, because now I’m left with the reward of a truly, truly amazing record.