The Young Knives To Release New Album, 'Superabundance,' April 22
4/20/2008 10:30am EDT
A muscular clatter of pulsing guitars, head-spinning percussive thuds, and harmonic, brotherly vocals provide the backbone to a rich throng of giddy, excited ideas and ageless, wry lyrical themes. Truly, Young Knives are a band for our times, and all times.
It's been quite a spell for this distinctive trio of respectably dressed men. Based upon a tight, irreplaceable unit, comprised of brothers Henry and Thomas "House Of Lords" Dartnall, and school-friend Oliver Askew, (who all met in Ashby De La Zouche near Loughborough), their formative years were spent making rather rubbish music and ironic cover versions before anything particularly viable was to form. Then university got in the way altogether, rendering the band temporarily redundant.
Eventually, the rolling Welsh hills that surrounded their stint at university led to a cultural and physical shift - to Oxford. It was here that it started to make sense to take this music thing a little more seriously. Exploiting the town's rich musical heritage, set of venues and arch promoter types, the Knives began a vigorous assault of constant gigging and recording. Early results include their first, mini opus - the jagged and unrelenting, Brit-Pixies jar of "The Young Knives...Are Dead." It was an early nod to the band's penchant and celebration for home-grown eccentricity and close-to-home irreverence, surreal and infectious in equal doses.
An unofficially released EP - "Rollerskater" - and several hundred, band-pressed "Nolen's Volens" LPs surfaced afterwards, but it was with the arrival of some thunderous, brand-new material in winter 2005 that audiences began taking particular note. It all suddenly clicked. The abrasive guitars and stop-start rhythmic somersaults were merging with new melody-drenched choruses that stuck in heads and shifted feet. What's more, Andy Gill of the legendary Gang Of Four started phoning them up to hastily organise some recording sessions in his home-studio.
The newly formed, London-based Transgressive Records, barely three seven-inch vinyl releases in, heard about this regional outbreak - and hopped on a train from Paddington to Oxfordshire to witness what was happening. Greeting them onstage at the homely local venue, The Wheatsheaf, that night were three tweed-clad, English professor-types performing some of the most visceral and feral pop songs of a generation. Barely a month later, signatures were stolen, dreams were made, and a classic album was embarked upon, utilising Gill at the helm.
"I just remember how exciting it was to do it (make the album with Gill); it being our first proper experience in the studio with a seasoned producer, and how much we learnt..." ruminates Henry. "We thought properly about songwriting, song structure...and also how to free ourselves up from ideas we had...getting a bit more crazy. Emotionally, it was a great awakening as a band. He is like your guiding, wise uncle. He showed us a strong work ethic when it came to attention to detail, but also was just a very nice man. He knew when to stop working for a day."
"Voices Of Animals & Men," an Adam & The Ants reference, was eventually christened. It reached silver record status in the U.K., featured the most-talked-about launch party of the year (a peculiar outdoor summer fete in the heart of Camden Town, featuring coconut shies, a tombola, and a raffle), and spawned several hit singles in the form of "The Decision," "Here Comes The rumor Mill," "She's Attracted To," and "Weekends & Bleak Days (Hot Summer)." Each song also boasted a unique and band-based video that - in an age of YouTube-whored, visionless artistry - reintroduced the beauty of the music video. The band could be caught in any manner of scenarios, whether dodging uncompromising, violent in-laws, recreating "The Wickerman" (not Nicholas Cage's version, mind you), or mustering dance routines in the deep seas, and it always worked.
Add to this a fearless, Two Ronnies-esque live show that had been forming; in which Henry and The House Of Lords saw it worthy to reduce the other to a wreck, using the most derogatory, offensive and - frankly, hilarious in-between song banter. "Look at him," Henry once jeered, pointing the audience out to his youngest across the stage. "He's one, big, sweaty fat f--- - boo him!"
Relentless, comedic, but never just comedy, the Young Knives had, in a twelve-month blur, found themselves held tightly in the inner-bosom of the nation's most revered new findings, epitomised in a prestigious nomination for 2007's Mercury Music Prize. Wildly received tours of Europe and America didn't damage things - in fact, the change of scenery provided some headspace through which the band could conceive the concept for a new album. Something more ethereal and magical was on the agenda, a step beyond the linear, rustic, angular reverence of their first.
And, no, the Young Knives didn't go to India and find themselves, or discover a new powder that took them there. Instead, Henry built a writing studio in his farmhouse and they emigrated to Scotland to record in a space dubbed the Castle of Doom, which featured a dazzling set of new songs with producer Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Super Furry Animals, Dirty Pretty Things).
"Castle of Doom...it was more of a relaxing place...We've not spent hours editing down tracks; we've gone off and thought about the songs, and had space when we needed it from each other. It's been more about performance and nailing the songs, rather than messing around with things we've already done...That's what's Tony has brought to it."
Being able to quietly write and craft a classic, second album is a rare practice - especially when sandwiched between a relentless touring schedule that includes all the major festivals, and some rather high profile promotional activity - and doubly so in such a quick time span. Somehow, these steely blades have achieved it.
"Last time," continues Henry, "We had it (the album) written for years, and we re-explored it and the material we had...we broke stuff apart and redid it, but worked within boundaries of it..."
Any nerves to follow it up? Seemingly not.
Watch the video for "Terra Firma":
"We really enjoyed coming up with all the ideas, even the heartache and the arguments along the way. There were a lot of 'High-five!' moments in rehearsal."
"For the new material, it's all been one process, the writing and recording; we've done it with the studio in mind, exerting much more freedom...We've let ourselves go wild on the loud and quiets, and we've worked a lot more on melody. I saw a documentary on Kurt Cobain; he said always work on melody before anything else; the shouting in between would always be the icing on the cake."
So the new work isn't so much a world apart, as an interplanetary galactic one apart - from the elevating, neon blitz of "Terra Firma," to the incendiary "Revenge of the Nerds" classic "Up All Night," there's the maudlin tribal Silver Apples chill of "I Can Hardly See Them." And not to mention the standout "Bond" theme-song massiveness of "Turn Tail," complete with a 16-piece orchestra (yes, even recorded in a church). The latter is perhaps the first Young Knives song that could make you cry.
"Turn Tail is our riskiest one," acknowledges Henry. "You could listen to it and think it's a melodramatic song, but it's crazy enough, the whole arrangement and the fact it has two choruses. To me, it's the progression from "Loughborough Suicide" (itself a highlight from "Voices..."). That song had a more standard structure, so we wanted to get away from it...subvert it a bit. This is a step away from that punkiness, which we'd often resort to."
Superabundance is bigger, more beautiful, bracing, and more direct and compelling than any of their previous work. It is the sound of a band not only enhancing the dexterity, eclecticism and integrity of their debut, but redefining the stakes of what the band is, dispensing a wider set of tools, and deriving from a greater, more vivid pool of inspiration.
Hence a name change to accommodate this landmark. It's no longer The Young Knives. Young Knives are not a "The" band anymore.
And a little wardrobe reshuffle will see that "farmer chic" competently exchanged for a more refined Gilbert & George feel, to mirror the musical and artistic upgrade, too. It's an enigmatic, slightly disarming departure. Yet there was no agenda; Henry deadpans, "We just bought some new clothes."
"The only thing we were worried about was going too self-important and dad-rock," Henry concludes. "There are bands that have been doing it, coming back with just OK second records. They feel they're empowered to write "more important rock music. We wanted to ensure that wasn't happening."
Constantly evolving, consistently shifting, and always appealing, Young Knives' comeback is the most important and influential of our decade so far, a band destined to redefine genres, better lives, and - for the first time with this album - touch its listeners. Lord knows where we'll all end up next.