Knife Party: An Overview

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Knife Party are a weird story. It seems whenever Rob Swire tries something, he immidiately moves to something else. This technique can lead to a very diverse catalogue, but that’s not really what happens in this case. It seems Swire is more afraid of repeating himself than wanting to explore new ground, He shouldn’t be. Both Pendulum and Knife Party mastered their genres. While he abandoned Pendulum soon enough before they will lose their personality, Knife Party was different.

It started well enough. Their first two EP’s were released in the span of 2011-12. This was the beginning of Brostep’s traditional sound, a little before wild experimentation became common. The dominating sounds were mid-range bass wobbles and laser-like blips. Adding a little melody was common, but they always used abrasive sounds for that.

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The first EP mastered that style. The scene had a lot of talented producers but no one matched Skrillex. No one could make their Brostep as ridiculous as his. His music was almost a self-parody. Knife Party sounded exactly like Skrillex but got it right. “Fire Hive” either screams in your ear or bass-talks. “Destroy Them With Lazers” has bass roars and lazer sounds.

It was almost a classic. It could have been, actually. Knife Party also released a DJ mix with some unreleased tracks which were just as good. There’s no reason not to release “The Box” or “Suffer”. The dumbest decision was to scrap “Zoology” which featured Skrillex. There’s a full-length version which is possible the original and not just a fanmade remake. Anyway, that song epitomizes what was so good about the scene. It had the funky rhythm of Moombahton but with the Heavy Metal aggression of Brostep.

Rage Valley was even better. Every song tackled a different genre and made everything around it feel a little pointless. “Centipede” is ridiculously heavy and it’s not actually loud. It’s just the BOOM at the beginning of the drop that makes it so intense. “Bonfire” was a hit that deserved all the hype. It switches constantly from roars, mid-range and melodic synths. Every little part is catchy on its own, and the alternating between them gives it a hyperactive energy. The sound of the drums is also perfect. Although “Sleaze” isn’t as good as “Zoology”, it first showed that Knife Party could make bangers without being loud.

Things started go downhill with Haunted House. It’s a great EP, but this is where Rob Swire focused on Not Being Brostep rather than making good music. The result is trend-hopping. It’s not so bad here because “LRAD” destroys almost every other Big Room track. It’s hard to think of a Big Room track that matches it and isn’t made by a Brostep artist. There’s “Wizard” and “Epic”, but that’s it. The VIP mix of “Internet Friends” also destroys the original. It adds more to the first drop and adds a Brostep one at the end. If you don’t count “Zoology” because it’s unreleased, then that’s their masterpiece.

Abandon Ship was where Rob Swire got completely lost. There were some traditional tracks there. There was some experimental tracks that kept the aggression. “404”, for example, is a weirder version of Big Room that’s pure genius. A lot of the tracks see Knife Party hopping on trends that aren’t very good, or they don’t give them a new spin.

“EDM Trend Machine” bangs, but there’s nothing unique or charming about it. It’s a very straightforward Deep House track. “Begin Again” and “Red Dawn” tackle worse trends. The former is an Avicii rip-off that’s saved only because of SWire’s vocals and the structure. The second is an attempt to stick a few samples from ethnic music to make us think it’s original. It sounds like a David Guetta B-Side (only with better production).

All of it bangs (except “DIMH” which has no point), but it saw Knife Party shedding their ‘seizure music’ and replacing it with, what exactly? Inoffensive dance music? I know that loudness isn’t actually praised in EDM. The best-selling tracks in Beatport are rarely weird or inventive or ridiculous. It’s mostly a typical House track with those annoying Melbourne Bounce sounds. It’s something that’s kind of rhythmic, kind of melodic but never anything that will distract you from staring at bouncing tits.

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Why did Knife Party try to appeal to him, making dance music that’s suited to fade to the background? Their latest EP is the worst offender. For some moronic reason they decided their collaboration with Tom Morello will be on his album (We already heard that promise) and replaced it with a JAUZ remix. They should’ve kept the remix and get rid of “Kraken” or “PLUR Police”. If Abandon Ship had some quirky or odd moments,this has none. The drops here are exactly the same, only using slightly different notes. The wobbles and bass plucks of “Parliament Funk” are great, but that’s one song out of 3. They couldn’t even make a different second drop.

I don’t get it. I understand getting disillusioned with a scene. Many artists moved away from these sounds, but they expanded their horizons. Skrillex, Kill the Noise, Dillon Francis and even Barely Alive aren’t just about 140 BPM drops with bass growls. Dillon and KTN actually released average LP’s, but they pushed themselves and tried new ideas. KTN mixed his bass growls with Deep House or did a weird Disco track. Dillon tried his hand at producing Pop music and it worked.

Knife Party have very high levels of production. As generic as “PLUR Police” is, it still sounds better than anything like it. I hope the new EP was just a transition record, something they had to get out of their system. Their previous material is some of the best Bass Music has to offer. For all of Rob’s cynicism, that’s his scene. There’s no reason to move away from it. Aggression may dominate, but experimentation is encouraged. The top labels have plenty of weird artists in them. Never Say Die did sign LAXX after all. Hopefully, Knife Party will come back to themselves. If not, we still got 3 classic EP’s and a decent LP.

Next up: Top 10 Knife Party songs.

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Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

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Panic at the Disco were never ’emo’. They were never even similar to the bands that people mis-classified as Emo. They had Punk-Pop elements, yes, but they were more experimental and glam than their peers. When Fall Out Boy and Chemical Romance traded the punkish hooks for experimentation, it sounded like a band trying to justify their huge fanbase. When Panic reinvented themselves over and over, it was just something they were made to do.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. Urie stomps and brags over a Hip-Hop backing while forgetting to rap. Fall Out Boy released a very similar song recently too. This is what happens to all successful rock bands. After you’re victorious, selling records and getting groupies what is there to sing about?

Stadium is the logical end of any band that relied on hooks for success. Some bands still pretend they have a serious message to deliver. Others, like Papa Roach, still give us angsty lyrics only with friendly melodies. They make it clear that the bands aren’t struggling, but they hope the songs will help you.

Since Panic never complained much about life, they choose (more correctly, Urie chooses) the hedonistic approach. There are a lot of lyrics about partying, drugs and being a bad motherfucker. The biggest influence on this album isn’t Frank Sinatra. Did Frank display the arrogance Urie shows in “Victorious” or “The Good, The Bad…”? For most of the album, Urie tells people either to fuck off, step their game up or how great he is. When he’s not doing that, he tells us he parties hard. It’s no different than your average Rap song on the radio.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s actually what Rock music needs right now. Rock music suffered too much of over-seriousness. Ever since Nirvana, every rock star decided to make the audience a psychotherapist. Some Nu Metal or Punk Pop bands added a little fun, but a lot of Rock was just noise to think deep thoughts during recess. I can still remember the days when we considered fun music to be meaningless and therefore bad.

These songs are great. Urie is convincing in his arrogance and I don’t expect anything less of a rock star with fan girls. Urie sounds so confident that “Crazy=Genius” almost sounds stupid. What kind of lover would doubt him after hearing him on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? On “The Good, the Bad…” he sounds like he will continue smiling even if he’ll receive 1000 punches.

Urie also experiments with genres a bit, but they’re never full-blown experiments. It’s odd to hear no guitars on “Emperor’s New Clothes”, but he never lets the genre he experiments with to take over. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Urie is a charismatic enough singer to hold his own. The hooks are better than ever, but you do wish Urie would go further. If he’s so confident as he presents himself, why doesn’t he try to rap on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Why doesn’t “Victorious” contains a Skrillex-inspired bass drop although it begs to?

As expected, it’s the ballads that fail. They’re not terrible, but they’re a huge step down. They reek of tokenism. Urie may like Sinatra, but he doesn’t have the same kind of voice. He can’t replicate that atmosphere. A few horns and vocal acrobatics don’t make you Sinatra or Dean Martin. They have a specific style of melodies and of singing.

The title-track doesn’t suffer too much since it still has the old rock star arrogance. The obligatory closing ballad is a huge step down. Instead of channeling the influence and making a throwback, it’s just your ordinary piano ballad at the end of a rock album. Ballads often stick like a sore thumb in an album full of party tracks.

These two and a few other, more serious tracks make the record less focused. Urie plays the party tracks with full conviction, but he’s unsure how exactly to imitate Sinatra. Without this focus, the album fails to be the big statement it should have been. It’s still a great record full of hooks and variety, though. Maybe Pretty Odd was Panic’s classics and they will never improve on it, but Urie is far sounding out of ideas.

3.5 naked emperors out of 5

Muse – Drones

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This is a joke, right?

So the previous Muse album was funky and had dubstep. Now they’re going ‘back to basics’ with a straightforward rock sound, keeping the progressive structures and with a concept to boot. The concept is important. It’s about a man who gives in to the mind-controlling government, becomes a ‘drone’, a killing machine only to revolt thanks to the power of love.

I didn’t know 16-year-old angry guys with eggs for brains were a great audience. This whole thing tries so hard to impress them, to give them a soundtrack to reading God Delusion and hating America. There will be no experimentation, no creativity and definitely no dubstep or any of that dancing crap. Dancing is for drones. You’re a teenage angry atheist who isn’t a big fan of government and now knows what life is about.

This is escapism. You do not bring new ideas to your audience and challenge the ones they hold. You flatter them. You tell them what they already think and assure them they’re right. It’s best that you do this without asking why they think what they think. Antichrist Superstar targeted those kids who are nothing, want to be something and can’t decide if they hate themselves more than the world. I’m that target audience, but Manson explored this state of mind from various viewpoints.

Antichrist Superstar (and if we’re going there, Downward Spiral) were inner journies. The reason they come off as vague and analysis of them tends to be slippy is because their stories don’t chronicle solid events. They chronicle how a person’s views and emotions changes, where a certain worldview can lead you. Drones is a blockbuster.

Drones details no personal journey. It’s about a guy who eventually revolts and defeats the government (with the power of love). So, it’s your typical action blockbuster with no personality. You can’t even compare it to good action films. There is music here, but it tends to be bombastic noise. The most interesting idea is the choir thing at the end, which is a worse idea than recording your own farts. The most fun thing here is “Dead Inside”. It also happens to bang in the whip.

When I was young I used to admire musicians for talking about ‘current events’ and ‘problems of the world’. Then I grew up a little, got interested in other forms of art (and became a drone of the whole ‘medium is the message’ thingie) and turned around. It also had something to do with all these musicians hating women, but all these political lyrics ended up meaningless. (hed) pe cared more about fucking. Chuck D’s main message is that he’s a great rapper. Rage Against the Machine were against the government because they’re not buying their records.

There is the occasional Heroes of Hiphoprisy, but music is a pretty awful way to deliver intellectual content. It’s a medium of the hearing sense. It deals with emotions, with what things feel like. Downward Spiral isn’t an intellectual exploration of ‘becoming a machine’ but an emotional one. That’s why Reznor has all these machines banging in the background.

Muse doesn’t even offer an ideas of what it feels like to be a ‘drone’. They’re not considered with sharing emotions but by telling a story. That’s why the album is so blunt. You get both a Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant and lyrics that tell you “I could use someone like you/someone who’ll kill on my command”. What’s hilarious is that Muse felt the need to include both, as if the drill sergeant interlude wasn’t enough. There is no subtley, no humor, nothing. Muse doens’t show but explains, over and over. There’s none of the humor that made the first half of Full Metal Jacket so powerful. The song itself is mishmash between Antichrist Superstar and Pale Emperor. How can you sound like Marilyn Manson and be boring?

Saying over and over that the government is bad and that the military is terrible does nothing. All you do is create an ‘unknown enemy’ with no motivation but pure destruction and death. This is what people hate about America, that the American government is supposedly creating an enemy with no motivation but killing and getting money. It takes one to know one.

The true punchline is how love is going to save us all on “Aftermath”. You have to remember the words of Mike Skinner to understand it. Muse sell out stadiums. They’re rich and they play guitar. They probably have threesomes everyday. If I were in their place, of course I’d believe that love is going to save us all. Sadly, I’m not that attractive and I see a lot of people fighting over love. Maybe it’s better to be a psychopathic killer than crazy for a person, but that’s a disucssion for a different day.

There is music here in the narrative, but it’s not very interesting. The awful concept is far more fun to talk about. The music is very loud but very pleasant to the ear. It’s great if you want to feel rebellious at school, but also intellectual. We all know that when Manson screams it’s pure stupidity, but the falsetto of “Mercy” is intellectual. There’s a dubstep rhythm to “The Handler” and I already talked about how “Dead Inside” bangs, but that’s it. “The Globalist” borrows ideas from Morricone and stretches to 10 minutes while doing nothing. No one really expected an album with titles like “Dead Inside”, “Psycho” and “Revolt” to be good, right?

2 drones out of 5

Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers

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Insane Clown Posse finally makes a consistent, great album. It seemed impossible. Carnival of Carnage and The Ringmaster contain pretty much nothing of worth. Even Great Milenko, which produced some fantastic songs failed as an album. They had a great foundation, but somehow for four albums they failed to even comes close to fulfilling the potential.

The reason Jeckel Brothers works is simple. While on Milenko they lifted their strengths to great singles, on Jeckel Brothers they take care of the weaknesses. There are songs here called “Bitches” and “Another Love Song” and they’re both great. That’s because the Clowns are less considered with being dirty and shocking, and more with this whole act of crazy killer clowns. “Bitches” sounds so stoned and out-there it’s hard to get offended by it. Ol’ Dirty Bastard appears in it to inform us that he’s willing to have sex with fat women when he’s smoking weed. This is how overblown this album is.

The theatrical side was always the Clowns’ strength. Whenever they stopped acting like Horrorcore rappers and tried to make a soundtrack to their Dark Carnival thing, they sounded focused and original. There are two interludes dedicated to the title characters, and they both work. Banging beats with carnival sounds, circus announcer vocals and melodic hooks were what made their best songs.

The Clowns translate this new found understanding of their sound to a strong, consistent set of songs. The album’s length also comes from it. They extend it to 17 tracks not to cover up a lack of ideas, but because they have a lot of them. Songs like “Mad Professor” and “I Want My Shit” wouldn’t work in Riddle Box, or even Great Milenko. Here, they’re amusing enough get by despite the underwhelming hooks. When the hooks are there, it’s good as always.

It’s also thanks to moving further to rock-like songs. Clark’s production hasn’t changed much. It operates in the same way as Great Milenko – guitar riffs, carnival sounds and anything else odd that he can get his hands on. The songs no longer sounds like they’re Hip-Hop with guitar noises added. “Play With Me, “Nothing Left” and “Everybody Rize” rely much more on hooks and melodies, and are closer to Crazy Town than anything else. The bolder approach suits them more. It allows them to play up the theatrical aspect, instead of just making bad rap songs full of cuss words.

Only two songs don’t really work, but even then it’s not as bad as before. “The Shaggy Show” and “Fuck the World” are decent ideas, but the former is boring and the latter has a stiff, annoying flow that’s supposed to be angry but is very unconvincing. It’s a waste of a good hook. They’re at least sound like they can improved upon.

“Assassins” deserves a special mention. The last hook descents into mayhem of gunshots, guitar riffs and screaming. It’s a perfect example of when the Clowns’ music really works, even if it’s a cover. Thankfully, Jeckel Brothers wasn’t a one off. Even when their later albums were underwhelming, they still have the same verve and spark they found here. I’d understand anyone not wanting to wade through the crap in their back catalogue, but Jeckel Brother is a unique album that deserves at least one spin. It’s amazing how they went from the dullness of Carnival of Carnage to this.

3.5 jugglers out of 5

Knife Party – Abandon Ship

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There are two ways to view this album, both of which are related. There’s an attempt to follow the blueprint for every good dance album. Artists that follow this blueprint make sure that first and foremost their tracks bang, and then surround them with quirks and amusing ideas to make them memorable. There’s also an attempt at a statement-making album. Knife Party tells us they are beyond the Bass Music scene. Why would they try to go beyond it is a mystery. It’s a scene that spawned LAXX, Skrillex, Excision, MUST DIE! and Barely Alive. Unlike the bland European house that Knife Party borrows from them a bit, Bass Music artists actually understand how dance music works.

Either way, this statement is a failure. Knife Party’s version of being ‘experimental’ is merely avoiding Brostep. Many of the ideas they replace the Brostep with are not only less original, but are not worth exploring. “Red Dawn” relies on a Middle Eastern melody, and this one-note idea makes it sound like a DJ tool by some Martin Garrix clone. The melodic “Kaledioscope” is just a less progressive Orbital, and “Begin Again” is Hardwell or Avicii with better vocals. “EDM Trend Machine” doesn’t add anything to the modern Deep House formula. The snippet of Brostep and Big Room before the drop doesn’t change much. It’s barely a second, so it doesn’t leave any effect. This idea was later improved on by Getter’s “Dubstep Is Dead”, who used this structure much more effectively. He also added a Hardstyle drop.

Another problem with these songs is that Knife Party operates in an area they don’t feel comfortable with and show little understanding of it. “Going soft” seems radical for an artist as aggressive as Knife Party, but the aggressive tracks sound much more inspired. It makes you wonder if Rob Swire only churned “Kaledioscope” just to say that he can do more than make noise, but why would he avoid making loud noises if this is where he’s most inspired? “404”, “Micropenis” and “Boss Mode” are just as aggressive as anything by Excision, and this time the quirks actually work. There’s a chiptune breakdown in the middle of “Micropenis” that sounds jarring at first, but actually fits in such overblown music. “Boss Mode” is a Drumstep track masquerading as Twerk. “404” is pure mayhem. The melodic build-up is the only thing stable about. Error sounds, glitches and a Big Room drop that takes the genre to its extreme. Even their attempt at Disco in “Superstar” sounds like they added a little funk to “404” instead of borrowing their ideas from Daft Punk. Disco never had such hard drums.

Rob SWire’s attempts at originality failed, but it barely harms the quality of Abandon Ship. As a dance album, it’s fantastic. Every single track here is a banger. The aggressive tracks are much stronger than the softer ones, but even the soft ones are good enough to not let the album down. It’s a testament to Knife Party’s talents that “Begin Again” is as a good as it is. Give it to Hardwell or Avicii or Armin Van Something, and you’d get white noise. In the hands of Knife Party, this style of melodic house sounds like it has a future. It’s not just Rob’s vocals. When the drop comes, it’s focused more on an uplifting atmosphere, and it doesn’t rely just on its drop anyway. The drop in “EDM Trend Machine” is being done to death, but there’s still a great bassline there. Only “D.I.M.H.” is bad. It’s a bland, melodic track that is supposed to be ‘traditional’. If it is, I’m glad Leftfield and Underworld destroyed that trash. There’s no way the people behind “Give It Up” made such a shoddy production job.

Once you get over the pretense that this album is more original than its peers, it’s a great dance album that gets everything right. Knife Party’s transition to album should’ve come earlier. Abandon Ship actually feels too small. It could definitely use a few more tracks, perhaps an actual drum and bass one or another moombahton. Despite Rob Swire’s attempt, Abandon Ship belongs to the Bass Music section and another example of how exciting and underrated that genre is. Just forget about “D.I.M.H.”.

3.5 abandoned ships out of 5

Linkin Park – The Hunting Party

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You can tell how experienced a listener is depending how he reacts to the idea of going back to basics. There is no reason for big bands to shed all the influences they’ve accumulated and re-write their debut album. It’s a cheap move that just tries to drag old fans back becuase the band is too scared to keep moving forward. It did kind of work for Korn, but Korn were already weird from the start. We don’t need Linkin Park to go back to that rock sound. Living Things was good enough at pushing it further and giving us stuff like “Victimized”.

The Hunting Party doesn’t see Linkin Park going ‘back to basics’. It doesn’t even see them making a loud record that’s all about aggression. The Hunting Party is the result of listening to Helmet, Quicksand and At the Drive-In and thinking, hey, we’ll have some of that.

It’s not a complete Post-Hardcore record. Helmet is the best reference point, with the other bands not so much. It’s not just because Page appears on “All for Nothing”. His apperance actually makes perfect sense. You only notice Chester after the third time you listen to it, and it makes you wonder why they didn’t recruit the guy to sing the rest of the songs.

Chester doesn’t have it in him to be aggressive anymore. He was never a Punk Rocker. He might’ve made it if he channelled a little At the Drive-In. Instead, we get “War” and “Mark the Graves”. I understand ‘punk’ sounds really cool and not pop, but is that an excuse to put out “War”? There is actually a rumor going on that the band didn’t even record in themselves. They just put a few coins in “Punk Rock Song Generator” and this is what fell out. Apperantly. the rest of the budget for the album went for getting Page Hamilton on that great song.

“War” is the worst example, but Chester’s awful screaming is all over the place. If “Keys to the Kingdom” is your first Linkin Park song, you would fall into a crisis, wondering who let the guy in. “Until It’s Gone’ makes things worse. Apperantly, they had enough coins left for the Power Ballad Generator Machine. You can turn off the song as soon as he says you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The good songs sound like they came from a completely different album. They have the same production job, but the approach to the material is different. Even a small idea like mixing rock and rap gets them inspired enough to write a great chorus like in “Wastelands”. “Guilty All the Same”, “Final Masquerade” and “A Line in the Sand” see them abandoning any pretense of making ‘real rock’ and just throwing whatever they have into the mix.

“A Line in the Sand” is the best example, with how it moves from ballad to punk to rap. It’s an attempt to mix all the previous elements into one song, but it doesn’t sound like a conclusion. It sounds like a leftover from A Thousnad Suns with more guitars. The same goes for “Guilty All the Same”. Its melodic guitar lines, Rakim’s guest apperance and extended length don’t make sense in terms of the concept. This isn’t the band making ‘real rock’ music, but just pushing themselves further because that’s what they do best.

Brad and Rob seem to be the most happy with the new sound, but they can’t care less either about the concept. They’re just happy to be behind the instruments again. The drums never hit so hard as before, and there’s plenty of moments where he tries to steal the attention from the vocalist. He gives Rakim a challenge in that long song he appears in. As for Brad, he just plays the best riffs he kept hidden away since A Thousand Suns. There’s a reason they released an instrumental of the album. Remove Chester’s annoying screaming and Brad’s riff shine on “Keys to the Kingdom” and “War”.

A special mention has to go to “Rebellion”. In a world where everyone tells the other to check their privilege, the band members acknowledge they haven’t faced oppression. They admit this whole rock music is an ‘imitation of rebellion’. This sort of maturity in political topics doesn’t appear in music often. Beyond ‘racism is pretty awful” and “I hate capitalism”, there’s not much to political music. Somewhere, Michael Franti is depressed because he didn’t write “Rebellion” for his masterpiece. Or maybe he ghostwrote it.

Linkin Park are still taking steps to their great album. The band will not make a classic until they will disappear to the genreless stratosphere occupied by Saul Williams. Every member of the band is talented, including Chester (When he doesn’t scream). They just work best when the ideas are pushed to the front, instead of just writing catchy songs and dressing them in cool sounds. Hollywood Undead are already trying to make it with Day of the Dead. It’s time for Linkin Park to quit playing around and drop another A Thousand Suns, but better.

3 hunters out of 5