I bought Silent Shout not long after it came out in February 2006, enticed by the rabid hyperbole being thrown its way on messageboards and blogs. The idea of atmospheric, intriguing Scandinavian dance music seemed like it would be right up my street, and, indeed, I loved the opening title track from the off. But it stopped there. Something about Silent Shout rubbed me up the wrong way, and I took against it vehemently, and cast it out. Or, at least, let it gather dust on the bottom-shelf.
Partly I think my antipathy was to do with the thickness and density of the sound; in early 2006 I was at the height of my anti-compression campaigning (I’m much more pragmatic these days), and I think I was looking for spacious, intricate, architectural sounds more akin to “The Box” by Orbital than what Silent Shout actually offered. Something nagged me about it; I wanted to understand what the fuss was about, to catch a glimpse of what I was missing and worm my way in. When I loved the Fever Ray album from the off, my desire to get Silent Shout only intensified.
Though it’s just as creepy and strange as “The Box”, Silent Shout gets there by different means; by and large it’s an album of direct, thumping, dancefloor-focussed electropop, irresistible beats and synth riffs (just get a load of the crazy, hook-laden opening to “Like A Pen”, which could be off Debut by Björk), but that thick production allows an array of startlingly cold, unnerving, and edgy textures and melodies in almost by the back door.
And then there are the voices; processed, performative, unrecognisable and alien. Both Karin and Olof sing, but it’s often hard to tell who is who, or if either of them are even human, let alone what the actual words they’re enunciating are. But when you do start to notice the words (or, you know, look at them in the sleeve), and you realise that you’ve been dancing to a song about domestic abuse or tapping your steering wheel to a song about childhood alienation. It’s… discomforting, to say the least.
But that’s Silent Shout’s genius, like a lot of great music; it has the push-me/pull-you dynamic that so much great music has (Public Enemy always being my instant example; the grooves to capture you, the sirens to push you away), beats and hooks to lure you in, textures and atmospheres to make you feel uncomfortable. Finally, half a dozen years later, the crazy synth arpeggios, alien delivery, and emotional tundra made sense to me.
As an aside; when The Knife released Tomorrow, In A Year, their bizarre, collaborative electronic-opera about Charles Darwin in 2010, I was, by contrast to Silent Shout yet again, immediately taken with its disquietingly ululating choral arrangements and cavernous drum sounds; here, straight away, was the architectural quality to their sound that I’d wanted. The songs aren’t as singular as those on its predecessor (as an opera / soundtrack, rather than a pop record, I doubt they’re intended to be), and listening to its vast expanses in one sitting is a demanding, draining experience, but it offered yet another way in for me.