Friday, June 28, 2013

Young Knives - Out with the Old?

Sick Octave - the forthcoming fourth Young Knives album - will be released in September, and as with quite a lot of things these days, it's all thanks to Kickstarter. If you haven't pledged any of your filthy lucre to the band by this point, well, you're too late, but take a look anyway. The pitch was penned by a band sick of the music biz and yearning for complete control:

"We...wanted to be free of record labels and producers making decisions about our music. For some reason when you are working with record labels it’s an assumption that you book into a £500 per day studio and a producer tells you what is wrong with your music and makes it better for you."

As exciting as the promise of a "completely undiluted Young Knives record" is, this does raise a concern or two in my mind. Assuming that the last three YK albums were label-funded,  are now we to infer that those recordings didn't really count? Are the Knives that we've come to know and love merely the dust that remained after this fun-loving young band had been stomped into the ground by the iron boots of The Man?!

Don't get me wrong, I'm super-excited for Sick Octave. I downloaded the Oh Happiness EP yesterday (I went for the 'SICK VINYL' tier, in case you were wondering) and those four tracks are very promising indeed. But they do represent a definite departure, which does nothing to soothe my fears that Henry, House of Lords and The Drummer consider their back catalogue to be little more than a long, snake-like poo.

So here's my little love letter to the first three Young Knives LPs, lest we all forget how good this shit sounds...

Voices of Animals and Men
Most of my friends thought the Young Knives were stupid when they first arrived on the scene. Everyone thought they were too gimmicky, wearing smart shirts onstage and singing with English accents and not being as good as The Kooks, apparently. She's Attracted To was shunned for being too repetitive; Weekends and Bleak Days for rhyming 'summer' with 'bummer'. But my friends were wrong, because those two songs are great and so is pretty much everything else on this CD. Coastguard, for example, sounds like Interpol wearing a stripey one-piece bathing suit, and the album's bookends are two of my favourites: Tremblings of Trails sounds thrillingly miserable, while Part Timer is nothing short of exhilarating.

When this record first came out, I liked it even more than Voices..., although I'd probably reverse that decision in retrospect. Where the first album had a dark, sinister underbelly, Superabundance has a dark, sinister overbelly; Counters even contains references to carbon monoxide inhalation, as pretty much every review of this album pointed out. Still, look behind the darker and edgier veneer and you'll find a brilliant balance of stellar indie singles (Terra Firma, Up All Night) and appealing oddities (Flies, I Can Hardly See Them).

Special mention goes to Turn Tail, a string-backed coward's anthem that's uplifting in spite of its own despair. One comment on the song's page points out that if Kings of Leon or Arcade Fire had released Turn Tail, everybody would have prostrated themselves before it. I'm inclined to agree.

Ornaments from the Silver Arcade
Okay, so this is the weakest of the trilogy, but Fellowship of the Ring is still a top-notch film and Ornaments from the Silver Arcade is still well worth picking up. It will always remind me of the strange little summer that I spent working in the Next stockroom and carving out a belated career on Total Club Manager 2003. This album is a bit less unified than the previous two, but that's kind of nice in a way - each song has a slightly different feel, and it keeps things interesting. Human Again is frantic and fast-paced, whereas Vision in Rags sounds more subdued. Then there's the menacingly funky Silver Tongue; the sweet bongo action and tasty climax of Woman; and the closing track, Glasshouse, which is insistent and catchy and glowing and golden.

So then, Young Knives. By all means ride off into the stripped-down, experimental, DIY sunset, but remember this: just because your new album is awesome doesn't mean that your old albums are crap. I'm certainly still listening to them, for whatever that's worth.

In the interest of balance, here's a sentence-long wank over the Oh Happiness EP:

Reproduction is really awesome and broody and dirty and Maureen kind of sounds like Heroes but more introverted so basically amazing and Signs of Weakness kind of sounds like a Grandaddy song towards the end which is fantastic and I haven't really gotten into the title track yet but maybe it will grow on me.

Here's Maureen, which really is really really good (video probably NSFW). Merry weekend everybody!

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