Unpredictability and imagination not forgetting compelling ingenuity has always fuelled the sounds and invention of Young Knives, their unique blend of post punk and indie pop never low on surprises and persistently high on infectiousness and experimentation. The UK band’s new and fourth album Sick Octave as expected is no departure from that intent but takes the exploration and experimentation of their songwriting to new riveting heights. Taking further the challenging enterprise which has been hinted at on previous albums through songs like Tailors, I Can Hardly See Them, and Storm Clouds, the trio dives head first into a hungry invention which maybe ebbs and flows a little in its success but undoubtedly emerges within the new release as an ultimately magnetic adventure.
Financed through Kickstarter, the wholly DIY made album is a mesmeric landscape of striking and seductive persuasion, one which tests and pushes limits for band and listener but rewards richly, especially the more time you spend in its taunting arms. There are moments and tracks where quizzical expressions find a home on the face but even in those less persuasive times the Young Knives leaves a temptation which ensures you feel a need to explore just that little more. Whether Sick Octave will find the success and responses of previous albums such as their debut Voices of Animals and Men of 2006 and Superabundance two years later, amongst certainly more fair weather fans is debatable but for those with an already waiting appetite for the band’s deeper aural research it is a release which potently satisfies.
Released on their own Gadzook Recordings there is a feeling of freedom to the album, something which possibly was pent up and restrained on earlier releases from label restrictions. Through a comparison to its predecessor alone, the 2011 album Ornaments from the Silver Arcade, there is a bolder, braver, and hunger to the invention upon Sick Octave which feels like the band has been able to uncaged a new bolder creativity, and they have never been slouches in that department from day one. Young Knives opens the album up with the brief 12345, an entangled vocal countdown made by children which is the first raising of eyebrows. It is immediately forgotten though with the arrival of Owls of Athens, the song exploding into view with eager electro bait. Like a jaunt with Sigue Sigue Sputnik whilst a haunted sax wails appealingly in its riveting sky, the track roams around the senses with an addictive bait washed with melodic brass flames and the fine vocals of Henry Dartnall, ably backed by the rest of the band. The song is a smouldering temptation, one which never truly explodes but teases and provokes with craft and a contagious invention to immediately awaken the passions with its spellbinding presence.
The following We Could Be Blood opens up another distinct tempting avenue. The bass of The House Of Lords emotively twangs across the ear at first to be soon joined by Dartnall’s voice and the caressing touch of a Hammond organ. With the beats of Oliver Askew firmly framing the start there is an eruption of melodic fire from within the gentle stroll, an energy which subsequently shares time and position with the melancholic call of the track. One of the slow burners upon the album, the song is a pleasing encounter which sets the emotions and thoughts up nicely for the strikingly impressive suasions of All Tied Up and White Sands. The first from a raw feisty start, the guitars chewing up the opening ambience, strolls through a warped tango like weave of rhythmic and sonic enterprise. There is a Talking Heads breath to its body that plays mischievously within the darker heavier croon of the song, shadows which have the scent of Joy Division to their encroaching. It is a masterful venture soon surpassed by its sensational successor. White Sands is a schizophrenic rhythmic bewitchment which manages to rein in its full insanity to make an addictive cage for the predacious bass lures and carving guitar strikes, the mix an imagination stirring narrative led by the continuing to impress vocals, the album Dartnall’s finest hour so far one suggests.
Something Awful, a song inspired by Dartnall’s Grandfather and his battle with Alzheimers, opens up deeper intensive lyrical shadows with a brewed intimidation within the words with is powerfully interpreted by the music. A melodic swagger with bright tones crossed with rapacious challenging furies, the track is a thrilling provocateur for the senses and thoughts which flows into Preset Columns/ Default Comets, the track a less convincing evolution of its predecessor which leaves thoughts a little uncertain even after numerous flights through its sonic soundscape.
Both Bella Bella and Marble Maze ignite greater strength within the open appetite for the album, the first of the two a chilling cross between Wire and Blur whilst the second sees the band in many ways reverting to the sound and structure of earlier songs in their career but with an approach awash with emotive strings and spiralling intensity which burns a deep satisfaction into thoughts. Both songs fail to match some of the earlier heights crafted but still keep a fascination intently alive as does the jazz bedlam of Green Island Red Raw, the song a wanton scattering of ideas within a containing cloak of timing and restraint which just works if without setting blazes in the passions, though the bass work is quite delicious.
From the decent enough short rub of scuzziness that is Score, the album goes out on a major high with firstly the excellent Bed Warmer followed by the closing treat of Maureen. The penultimate song is a wonderfully abrasive and fiery encounter which rubs the senses up the right and wrong way to leave them wanting more whilst succumbing to the rabidity fuelling the energy and invention of the song, again something which harkens back in a way to their Young Knives…Are Dead EP with an extra sinewy splatter of Baddies infectiousness to it. The final song is the band at its melodic and lyrically incisive best whilst stretching their inventive boundaries. Another David Byrne like inspired festivity flirts with the dark veins of the song whilst its chorus is a virulent call which lays a healthy dose of funk spicery into the mix, with Dartnall at times delving into his finest John Lydon squall.
Sick Octave is an enthralling and thrilling release which suggests the next chapter of the Young Knives adventure is going to be a highly captivating one. The album may not be another Superabundance but it is without doubt a charismatic tantalising slice of instinctive excitement.
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