Kristeen Young takes the piano-drums rock duo blueprint that she's successfully adapted on previous releases and, with fan and first-time collaborator Dave Grohl on drums, goes for broke with The Knife Shift. Those familiar with Young will know this pairing is no mismatch; her approach to keyboards is every bit as zealous as most of Grohl's drumming. While all of her recordings are dynamic, aggressive exercises, this one feels particularly loose and feisty while achieving a comfortable, experienced ensemble sound that permeates the record. Of course, this isn't literally a duo album. Other notable contributors include the album's producer, Tony Visconti, on bass, and Visconti, Morrissey stalwart Boz Boorer, and even Grohl among those covering guitar. It's a straight-up rock band record, but one that emphasizes the keyboard-drums partnership. Meanwhile, Young's distinctive brand of hyperkinetic, broad-range, punky vocals leads the charge, always. The opening track, "This Is War," establishes the gritty, percussive tone with pounding piano dissonance often in unison with the drums, on top of siren-like guitar, balanced by a soaring vocal melody. "Pearl of a Girl," about the oppression of women through time ("Why are we even still talking about it?!"), is assertive top to bottom, a supremely danceable new wave romp. Here, the keyboard and drums trade fills, maintaining a relentless, brisk-tempo, 16th-note driving rhythm that, with a prodding bassline, propels the song forward like a stampede. The drums and keyboard bang-boom-pow their way in tandem through most of the 11 tracks (one, "Then I Screamed," is drumless), but not entirely without subtlety. The less raucous tracks still contain banging, but tastefully clear the way for melody and moments of contrast. "Jealous of Loved Children," for example, focuses on vocal prowess with dramatic rock musical vibes rather than hard rock persistence -- drums support instead of partner. Overall, the style is flamboyant, even confrontational, and it's hard to imagine The Knife Shift cracking contemporary mainstream playlists, but it's also hard to understand why as of this release Young hasn't been picked up by a record label (since early in her career) despite being championed by the likes of Grohl, Visconti, and frequent tour partner Morrissey. With her seventh full-length album, Kristeen Young offers some of her most striking and consistent work yet.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson