The Young Knives

Superabundance

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Young Knives couldn't be faulted for much on their breakthrough album, Voices of Animals and Men. If their tartar plaid and throwback video-making -- not to mention their angular new wave musical sense -- made them seem rather retro-obsessed, their songs were pure gold and singer Henry Dartnall played the nerdy, over-analytical type very well. But where Voices of Animals and Men featured social critique that didn't make life seem too bad (just the kind of place where you might have to work in a takeaway shop or get a little freaked out about relationships and school life), on Superabundance the situation is quite dire. Dartnall's view of life in England now includes the dreariness of its domestic life, its materialism, the desperation of its nightlife, its lack of care for the individual -- and that's just the first four songs. It's gotten so bad, apparently, that suicide is an option ("Sitting in the front seat/turning on the motor/sucking on the hosepipe/keep it turning over"). But music is, by and large, entertainment and escapism, so regardless of whether Young Knives intend to add enlightenment to that formula, their hooks and their ideas -- their entire musical package -- are too intriguing and exciting to provoke the usual worries about agit-pop. (Tiresome themes, depressing lyrics, and worse yet, the listener's nagging sense that all this has been heard before.) The trio definitely have mastered the basics of new wave: the spiky rhythms, plunging basslines, jagged guitars, and yelping vocals. More so than their debut, however, they're proving themselves masters of arranging and pacing their songs for maximum impact, letting guitars rage only up to a point and switching gears multiple times even before they hit the bridge. If you're afraid there's too much faux-populism on display (and not enough true populism), listen to the sober epic "Turn Tail" for something that reaches farther in a lyrical sense than most any other British band of the 2000s; the fatalism of the chorus ("We're all slaves on this ship/this ship's sinking") turns to hope near the end ("Swim to the coast, boat full of ghosts, jump from the prow"). Like certain of their forebears (Gang of Four being only the most obvious), Young Knives understand that using music to make social statements means very little unless the music is as strong as the statements.

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