Review: Abandon Ship - Knife Party
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It’s true that all of the songs on the record have bags of energy; and within a potentially limited set of generic conventions (most breakdowns and drops do sound relatively similar) there is plenty of variety on show. We’re served up portions of reggae on ‘Give it Up’; sickly sweet pop on ‘Superstar’; and something vaguely Eastern on ‘Red Dawn’; all immersed in the traditional drum and bass. Another seeming plus point is that Knife Party could never be accused of taking themselves too seriously. The general feel is of mischievous lads rebelling against their more polished performances on Pendulum and revelling in the rawness and unsophistication of their grimy bass. This approach works best on the growling yet infectious bass riff of ‘Give It Up’ and the inclusion of Windows error noises to counter the high drama of ‘404’. On the dreamy ‘EDM Trend Machine’, however, the raw grinding bass of the drop is replaced by glittering aural invention, and the listener cannot help but smile at the witty song-writing on show.
Sometimes the silliness gets too much. Between the explosions of bass, there are some baffling interjections from grandiose narrators. Opener ‘Reconnect’ has the literary gem “the trash filled mind of a laser bathed socialite”, while ‘Red Dawn’ spouts some nonsense about “ancient warriors”. ‘Micropenis’, meanwhile, clearly sets its stall for what is a bizarre five minutes. It begins in the style of a radio drama: an alarm rings, there is a dramatic yawn and a lady visitor arrives. But suddenly there is a wail of despair, as our protagonist discovers he has a micropenis (perhaps it shrunk in the wash). Cue fairly obnoxious sounding synths, as another rumbling robot voice reminds the (now distinctly embarrassed) gentleman of the diminutive size of his genitalia. It’s all a little bit puerile.
There are further areas where Knife Party misfire. ‘Boss Mode’ is a cocktail of irritation: the grating vocals; the nauseous acceleration of a breakdown that should be pulse-raising; the inability of the singer to say ‘collide’ or ‘mind’ (rendered as ‘colliieed’ and ‘miieend’). Both this track and ‘Micropenis’ sound like the sort of thing one would expect to hear as the soundtrack for a zombie shoot-‘em-up game, hardly the stuff to show off some insane dance moves in a club to. There’s also a tendency to experiment with interesting sounds and then abandon them as promptly as they were introduced. One often has the sense of two ex-band members rather self-indulgently playing on their computers rather than producing more accessible material.
Unfortunately for Knife Party, they are at their best when they are at their most polished, which seems in complete opposition to the record’s ambitions. ‘Begin Again’ could easily have been a Pendulum song with its anguished vocals and emotional fever pitch. The pair’s electronic experimentation takes a back seat to the song’s heart-raising ebb and flow.
There is clearly a large following for the visceral power of purely bass driven songs. The restlessly inventive ‘Centipede’ from the Rage Valley EP is more or less definitive of Knife Party’s style. Yet on the latest record, the moments when Knife Party do ‘abandon ship’ and veer into more rock or pop related waters- such as on ‘EDM Trench Machine’ and ‘Begin Again’- serve to highlight the desirability of a new direction. Behind the generic fury of ‘Boss Mode’ and the boyish humour of ‘Micropenis’ is an identifiable sense of boredom and a willingness to move on.