Scratched Into Our Souls

The Knife – ‘Tomorrow, In A Year’ (2010) | July 29, 2010

This is not a fun album. On paper, it sounds like a failure waiting to happen: Swedish electronic duo The Knife were commissioned by Hotel Pro Forma to write an opera and libretto about Charles Darwin. The result, however, is a staggering piece of art. Simply put, Tomorrow, In A Year is concept album about evolution. And you can hear that on first listen; none of these songs cannot stand on their own as songs. But together, as a unified whole, we have something so incredibly sublime that even the Romantics would have been proud.

Beginning with “Intro,” you’ll probably check your headphones or the volume knob when the eternal blackness of silence gives birth to a few disparate and disjunct blips, pops, and musical beeps. Representing the primordial soup and the dawn of time, “Intro” sets up the listener for an experience like none that I have ever experienced before. The next song is appropriately titled “Epochs,” and the disjointed and seeming unorganized sounds will make you wonder if this album can even be called music, let alone if it counts as an opera. The music on the album starts becoming more and more organized and complex over the two sprawling discs, going through its own natural selection to determine how sounds will become organized into living, breathing, naturally human forms. “Variation of Birds” begins with a literal electronic representation of bird songs, as Darwin himself studied countless species of birds to formulate his landmark scientific theories.

By the end of the album, we have the propulsive back beat of electro-jam “The Height of Summer” and the complex vocal hocketing and percussion of “Colouring of Pigeons,” the only song to feature vocals by Fever Ray on the whole record. Drawing its texts from Darwin’s field notes and personal journals, the album seeps with the pain and agony that was central to Darwin’s own life, as he struggled not only to create a mechanism that would explain the observations he would make but as he sacrificed his own personal life in the pursuit of answers to some of the biggest questions we can ask as humans. Tomorrow, In A Year evolves over time in multiple ways. The album takes over an hour and a half to go from the opening bars of silence to the closing lament of “Annie’s Box.”

The album also evolves the more you listen to it: this is the rare album that truly rewards its listener upon repeated listens. Musical details stand out that were once overlooked, textures shift and change over time, and the barriers between noise and music, between pop and art, become broken down. This album succeeds on an incredible number of levels, acting as both a fitting tribute to one of the most important men in the history of science and working as a piece of art, a piece of music that one can draw meaning and emotion from while also being taught something we didn’t already know. The themes are coherent, and the musical form fits into a cohesive and easily understood evolutionary narrative in order to conform to those themes. This is the sound of sound fighting with itself, struggling to survive. From the inky primordial soup of “Intro” to the complex electronic beats, tonality, and melodic hooks that arrive near the end, the album attempts to render evolution through a musical narrative. You can’t blame them if they didn’t make Silent Shout pt. 2

Closing the album on a somber final note, leaving me feeling complete and yet empty all in the same moment, a mezzo-soprano sings “How is Charles? I haven’t heard from him for a long, long time. A thousand years seem to pass so quickly.” At once, I understand my existence is insignificant, and the fact that I even exist is staggeringly incomprehensible.

Listen: The Knife – “The Height of Summer”


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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

    Add me on last.fm: http://www.last.fm/user/crob3888

    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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