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Posted on February 19th, 2010 (3:20 am) by Jennifer Monteagudo

The music industry landscape is a bitch. It is littered with bands made, broken, and forgotten faster than you can say “trucker hat.” For those precious few groups capable of producing more than one acceptable album, the temptation to stick with the formula is overwhelming. When they are brave enough to stray to a different territory, the results can be sometimes…unpopular. The Knife have taken just that path – moved away from their synth-tastic dance songs into the experimental realm. Their new album unquestionably deserves acclaim, but the likelihood of their popularity carrying over is, to put it mildly, low.

Tomorrow in a Year is an opera about the natural elements set against unnatural music. Based on Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Tomorrow in a Year covers land, water, birds and people through their stages of formation: from single cells, to the jungles, to higher intelligence. Mostly eschewing the traditional three-minute song format, the two-disc album instead relies heavily on long stretches of electronic instrumentation to build tension, and the dark, mezzo soprano voice of Kristina Wahlin to narrate. The voices of sibling duo Karin and Olaf Dreijer don’t appear until the second disc, where the turbulent Archean Eon is left behind for the far more complex and beautiful Holocene Epoch of human civilization. The overall album is awe-inspiring, combining sinister moods with angelic voices to catalogue our natural history. The Knife’s evolution from the dance floor to a higher intelligence means this album will be difficult for many people to grasp, but doesn’t devalue the splendor of the work. Only hardcore fans of the band, modern opera, or experimental music are likely to find immediate pleasure in Tomorrow in a Year, and none will find it an easy listen.

Tomorrow in a Year begins with a moment of silence before a single blip appears. Then a few more blips appear, becoming longer, then more elaborate. Soon, in the background, a storm brews, static scratches as the formation of earth turns into “Epochs:” now louder, stronger, faster, until – a voice in the darkness. The Knife have a stylistic bleakness even in their catchiest songs; a feeling of isolation permeates every album, not surprising, considering they come from a part of their world where winter months pass without sunlight. Tomorrow in a Year explores this darkness to its very edges, punctuated only by Wahlin’s operatic feats. As the album rolls along through “Geology,” “Upheaved,” “Minerals,” and “Ebb Tide Explorer,” the tension rises. There’s even the hint of a dark force at work… even in the underwater journeying of “Ebb Tide Explorer,” with its distant whale song, static and feedback is present, an air raid alarm goes off.

The long siren is one of the many thematic devices that emerge repeatedly. The storm of “Intro” erupts in “Schoal Swarm Orchestra” into rain and wind; geese honk in “Letter to Henslow” and crickets chirp in “Orchestra.” In the latter, the sound of the jungle, in the form of a primitive beat, is also introduced and creeps up again in “Tumult,” before finally exploding in the “Colouring of Pigeons.” This is where human creativity explodes on the hot, wet planet. Wahlin’s emotional, high pitched “ahs” and “ohs” are man’s discovery of music—turning a guttural moan into a clear melody, melody becomes countermelody, polyphony: the history of music. There’s an Asian tone to the song, as man leaves its African homeland for the Far East.

“Seeds” overlaps the natural and human story: “Ten distinct currents in the Atlantic/ Fourteen-hundred miles in 42 days/transoceanic pods and capsules/ will old occupants allow for room and/ sustenance?” The forty-two days is a reference to the movement of Europeans to the “new world,” but using the natural imagery of “pods” – seeds, vegetation, traveling from island to island by wind and sea. “Tomorrow in a Year” reprises the lyrics from “Intro.” What was monumental in the opening track, has undergone millennia of changes: “I’ve stood on a mountain/ dividing three regions/ then it was just a pebble/ that I held inside my hand.” These lyrics are a lament, as is the music, the singing – the entire mood of this opera is woe-begotten. The libretto opens with a morbid prediction: “an intersection of the plain/ by the bank of some great stream/ the animal carcasses and skeletons would be/ entombed.” If man’s first act of primitive singing was a moan, then all music grew from misery. But what exactly are the Knife lamenting? A world lost? A planet unknown? It’s left completely vague and up to interpretation.

The dark skies only lift at the very end, with the appropriately titled “The Height of Summer.” Here at the finale the Knife we all know reappear. The tension of Tomorrow in a Year melts away, and the mood is set free. Instead of retelling what has passed, “Summer” looks to the future: “I have an idea what comes after/ what will happen when I’m gone/ along the coastline we sow some seeds.” The seeds that traveled around the Galapagos, the seeds that sparked the mind of Charles Darwin, here become a symbol of immortality. What is constantly moving, replanting, an energy always transforming, is immortality. The libretto has taken the listener from a barren landscape, to a momentary blip, to immortality – to everything and forever.

This album is breathtaking, not only in sound, but in concept. The Knife dug in their heals and produced a thoughtful, incredibly deep musical representation of the evolution of planet, plants and animals. That first blip of “Intro,” like the waves of a pebble thrown into a lake, expands outwards, further and further, until everything is set in motion. Unlike the waves, Tomorrow in a Year ’s power doesn’t diminish as it expands its reach. As a concept album, and an opera, it is not easy listening. With the exception of “Colouring of Pigeons” and “The Height of Summer,” which work well as stand alone tracks, this work is not intended for dismantling; the geese calls on “Letter to Henslow” won’t work well on an iPod shuffle. Tomorrow in a Year may be one of those great works that doesn’t garner appreciation in its own time. Perhaps in the future, when everyone is hopped up on space cocaine and can time travel, Tomorrow in a Year will get its due. But don’t let that stop you from giving it a listen.

Track List:
1. Intro
2. Epochs
3. Geology
4. Upheaved
5. Minerals
6. Ebb Tide Explorer
7. Variation of Birds
8. Letter to Henslow
9. Schoal Swarm Orchestra
10. Annie’s Box
11. Tumult
12. Colouring of Pigeons
13. Seeds
14. Tomorrow in a Year
15. The Height of Summer
16. Annie’s Box (alt. vocal)

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

89 / 100
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