Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tomorrow In A Year Review

Finally got my hands on this little gem….

Industrial groans and electronic squeaks, which initially sound like workings of machine, pave the way into the sonic wonderland that is Tomorrow In A Year.

Swedish brother and sister duo Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray) and Olof Dreijer (aka The Knife) were commissioned by the Danish performance group, Hotel Pro Forma, to write the music for an opera based on the life and work of Charles Darwin. When reminded of the context of this project these groans clearly transform into an interpretation of animal life. Tomorrow is an intriguing, conceptual album that requires a certain level of concentration to appreciate the work. Simply listening to this album in your car will do it no justice, and will probably result in the disks being Frisbeed out the window.

Tomorrow cannot be experienced from the assumption that it is a follow on from any of The Knifes earlier works. Firstly, it has been classed as an electro-opera and therefore an entirely new set of elements and technique have been employed to make this piece work.  The album is divided into two disks, the first of which will leave many Knife fans feeling alienated and frustrated, assuming the same for fans of traditional opera, who may find the avant-garde electronics abrupt and ill suited to this domain. In an attempt to reach a more collaborative way of working the siblings invited post-punk solo artist Mt.Sims and experimental/pop, multi-instrumentalist Planningtorock to produce the album.

The duel disk album is a studio version of the opera, and therefore slight musical alterations have been made. Upon first listen disk one is hard to adapt to but as the music evolves it is by the second CD that Knife fans finally reap their reward. This album may even take a few listens in its entirety and while each time rewards the listener with a stronger appreciation of the epic aural landscape some tracks will leave you feeling discouraged such as Variation of Birds and Letter to Henslow.

The entire album switches between Darwin’s personal life and his scientific observations and disk one seems to be heavy with the latter. It is not until track two that we are introduced to mezzo soprano, Kristina Wahlin, who becomes one of the vehicles for the narrative of the opera.

Getting used to the operatic styles was a slow process, but I have come to appreciate the earlier tracks for what they are. In contrast I am yet to warm to Variation of Birds. Endless minutes of distorted baselines and screeching electronics that make you assume the CD is skipping. This song is actually hard to listen to.  By the time the beautiful vocals of pop artist Jonathan Johansson are introduced, the song has evolved enough to tolerate. Letter to Henslow on the other hand is a cross between children discovering an echo and an entire floor of an insane asylum mimicking bird calls and chimp noises. It seems uncanny, but you must keep in mind the piece is written to support a performance and you can not entirely discount until it you have seen the work live.

Lyrically, the work is very straight forward, musically, The Knife is very experimental. Recording outdoor ambience at the Mamori Artlab Workshop along the Amazon in Brazil, they have incorporated much of this throughout the album, chiefly on the track Social Swarm Orchestra.

The Second CD is less bizarre and the abrupt ambiance is replaced by rhythm, melody and even some pop hooks.

Annie’s box opens again with animal recordings before beautiful cello and orchestral movements perfectly encapsulate the morbid tone of the track. Sung from the perspective of Darwin the piece is a eulogy written for his 10yr old granddaughter and Wahlins operatic vocals are powerfully evocative.  This track is then juxtaposed against Tumult, an experimental ambient track that ever so slowly evolves into the tribal percussions that introduced us to Colouring of Pigeons, the first release off the album. Over 11 minutes of organised mayhem, this track seems to be the link between the earlier confusions and the forward direction.  Strong with elegant beauty and contemporary appeal it is in this track that we finally hear the unmistakable vocals Karen Dreijer. Less electronic and more percussive, this method really works for The Knife and I sincerely hope they continue to flirt with this style in the future.   

With electro-pop making its first appearance onto this album Seeds, delivers a building beat that establishes a new instrument or element every 10 or so seconds. As the fastest track on the album this is something you could see work in a club. For me this song was ruined by the vocals of Johansson. Although his performance is faultless, Seeds is clearly screaming for the eerie vocals of Karin or Olof. The title track is again heavy with the dark yet compelling rhythmical drums which are warmed with the layered vocals of Wahlin, Johansson and Laerke Winther who the opera was specifically written for being singers of different domains: popular music; classical opera; and the performing arts. By the final track the entire album feels complete.

This album will most likely not appeal to mainstream and if fans are expecting The Knife they will be alienated. It’s an opera, complex with experimentation and ambition, that has successfully challenged the pre-existing perception of what opera music should be. Tomorrow In A Year will polarise people. The raw power of traditional mezzo soprano against the electronic playground of The Knife, Mt. Sims and Planningtorock has created a cacophony of sound that is dense in aural imagery. It was compelling to listen to and I am curious to see what elements The Knife will borrow for their next album. 

A bit about the performance:

Directed by Ralf Richardt Strøbech and Kirsten Dehlholm the opera has been confirmed for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, 8 - 23 October 2010.

“Here there are all kinds of performance: Song and drama and dance. Here there is everything for the eye: green laser and writing in the air and video in slow motion. And here there is also everything for the ear: rock drawl and grating metal and opera trills.
Everything on this peepshow stage breaks out in 3D, what is more. The clouds of the video projections even mutate from virtual reality to stage reality, as smoke machines cause the clouds to glide through the film screens. Even the sound appears to come at you in 3D, because the one electronic layer of sound is superimposed on the other, so that this surround sound in Anders Jørgensen’s excitingly different sound design finally has a visual effect”
 Information, Danish daily, 5 September 2009


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