No Knife

Fire in the City of Automatons

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With Chris Prescott as the new drummer and Greg Wales handling production in place of Trombino, on Fire in the City of Automatons, No Knife would seem to be wanting a fresh start all around, though it's more a logical extension of where the band's been. In ways, though, the band has never sounded more immediately radio-friendly -- and that's not an insult. There's something about the choppy but never spastic flow of songs like "Academy Flight Song" (with an obvious titular and subtly musical nod to Mission of Burma) which makes good driving music, propulsive and cleanly powerful. Overall, meanwhile, there's a sense -- almost indefinable, but still present -- of trying for the post-punk soar and sound of American bands like For Against, the Curtain Society, and 12 Rods. It's not only in the guitars, but in the way Mitch Wilson's voice, which shows ever more control and subtlety as the years go by, sings in a strong but not testosterone-laden way while also avoiding shrill shrieks. Meanwhile, the music shows the powerfully sorrowful side of the band like never before, whether it's the slow groove of "The Spy" (Brian Desjean and Prescott in particular deserve some credit on this one, while Ryan Ferguson's piano is a fine extra touch) or the equally captivating film noir shades of "Under the Moon," Wilson's singing often at his quietest yet most direct. The really wonderful "Minus One" not only shows off one of Wilson's best lead vocals yet, but is shot through with a swinging, epic rhythm mixed with just enough melancholic guitar chime. There's still enough out-of-nowhere rhythm section shifts to remind one of the earlier band -- check out "Heavy Weather" or "Angel Bomb," the weird radio-signal guitar on the verses in particular being a strange, captivating touch.

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