Imagine nightlife on the tundra: breath fogging up, snow underfoot, aurora borealis flashing overhead, wolves or worse circling in the darkness, and the brother and sister from some grim fairy tale handling the sound system. Swedish siblings Karin Dreijer-Andersson and Olof Dreijer bring this scene to life on Silent Shout, which advances the Knife's already quirky vocal electronics into singularly bizarre territory. This is arctic-techno, electro-goth.
Two elements give this album its icy, otherworldly sound. First, there's Dreijer's use of FM (frequency modulation) synthesis, a type of audio synthesis (made famous by Yamaha's DX7 synthesizer) that produces frigid, crystalline tones and dissonant, metallic percussion. Second, there are Andersson's heavily processed and pitch-shifted vocals, which become alternately androgynous, ghostly, and alien—and frequently harmonize with her natural voice in a sort of chimerical chorus.
The Knife use these tools to create energetic electro ("Neverland," "We Share Our Mothers' Health"), barren soundscapes ("The Captain"), and hushed lullabies ("From Off to On," "Still Light"). Dreijer thaws out some cryogenic Giorgio Moroder–esque arpeggios on the propulsive title track and the eerie, echoing ballad "Forest Families." "Mothers' Health" summons melting synths and almost tropical rhythms from his austere sonic palette, giving the song's mutant vocals and ferocious lyrics serious bounce. "Like a Pen" builds shuffling, synthetic snaps and elastic singing into a sweaty microhouse anthem. The album ends with the subdued "Still Light," which seems to signal the first light of dawn creeping in on the Knife's long, dark night. ERIC GRANDY
The saying "age before beauty" has rarely felt as apropos as when applied to the latter years of Sonic Youth, New York City's beautifully gnarled quartet. Arriving in the band's 25th year, Rather Ripped is rather lithe, the most melodic and pared-down release of the band's last decade.
One convenient theory as to why Ripped exhibits even less of the increasingly taut traits of the band's 1998–2002 period could be the departure of bassist/producer Jim O'Rourke. But it's unlikely he is a divisive element; O'Rourke's tenure with the band just coincidentally seemed saddled with a sense of disconnect. Murray Street (2002) hinted at a reconciliation of cerebral and sensual, realized on 2004's Sonic Nurse (especially in "Dripping Dream," harmonically echoed on Ripped's "Turquoise Boy"). Now with Ripped, tense jamming compunctions have been distilled and the result is a logical extension also more closely recalling the concise, naked chime of 1994's Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star.
The cover of Ripped has a Xeroxed punk-era flier aesthetic that reflects Sonic Youth's return to the three-to-four-minute song format (and perhaps acts as a statement on the band's completed Geffen contract). Ripped peppers clean tone interplay (at times like other NYC luminaries Television) with a slight bleed of dissonant overtones (the legacy of Glenn Branca/Rhys Chatham) and features almost equal quantities of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon vocals. This is Sonic Youth in their prime metronomic, mitochondrial pocket. TONY WARE
NILS PETTER MOLVÆR
An American Compilation
Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær was one of the earliest established jazz musicians to dive headfirst into jazztronica, fusing an improviser's knowledge with cutting-edge technology. On 1998's Khmer and 2001's Solid Ether, he reached far beyond previous jazz-and-beat experiments, creating organic-sounding music that didn't rely on static drum patterns. But those CDs were made for the austere ECM label, a company known for its delicate mixture of classical production techniques and forward-thinking jazz, not electronic music. If Molvær wanted to get his new sound across to those outside of the jazz ghetto, which is filled with tight-asses who didn't accept it anyway, he'd have to take matters into his own hands. He signed a licensing deal with Universal for his subsequent albums, but that contract only extended to Europe.
Fast-forward to 2006, and Molvær not only has an American label; he has perhaps the best one to promote his music: Thirsty Ear's Blue Series has been a leading proponent of jazztronica, albeit with more New York City avant-garde leanings since pianist Matthew Shipp is the artistic director. Molvær's music is much more European, with frosty ambient keyboards nestling up to his effects-laden trumpet as drum 'n' bass-inspired rhythms fire in and out of the mix.
An American Compilation is constructed from ER, the live album Streamer, Recoloured: The Remix Album, and throws in a previously unreleased live version of "Vilderness." Three of the tracks—"Water," "Darker," and "Only These Things Count"—come from ER, which is scheduled for a September release, and two come from Steamer ("Kakonita" and "Solid Ether"), which Thirsty Ear also has on its slate. But as an appetizer until those CDs drop (or as an inspiration to locate an import of NP3), this compilation is a tasty snack. CHRISTOPHER PORTER