Album review: Knife Party – Abandon Ship

Originally published in The Broadie

Although my sarcastic and weary demeanour may tend to convey otherwise, I don’t try to intentionally dismember what I review. Perhaps I may sit down at my desk and brace myself for an onslaught of mediocrity, an instinct that usually serves well through the likes of Miley Cyrus’ magnum opus Bangerz. Knife Party triggers this radar like a machete at airport security, but each time I take a listen to their noises I find myself pleasantly surprised about how much I don’t despise them. The music is typically just as humane as the name suggests, with stabbing synths and heavy percussion, but Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, the Australian duo who formed from the remnants of drum and bass ensemble Pendulum, have a perplexing knack of making it sound vaguely tolerable.

After a plethora of delays, debut album Abandon Ship has finally found the light of day, but alas, it’s immediately obvious that the pair shouldn’t have tried to spread out their inspiration, if you could so generously assign it that term, to a longer body of work than a four-track EP. Though the duo were keen to avoid having dubstep on the record, they’ve not strayed too far from their traditional ‘electro house’ stylings. Any exploration into new territories feels strained and disingenuous – almost as if their major label contract has shoehorned them into boxes more befitting of spoons and cake forks.

Emotion is not a word that appears in the vocabulary of Knife Party, as the abrasive tendencies of opening tracks ‘Reconnect,’ ‘Resistance,’ and ‘Boss Mode’ – featuring dramatic voiceovers, “Crocodile” Dundee quotes, and talk of interstellar incidents respectively – display with horrific aplomb. On my first listen, I promptly gave up during ‘Micropenis,’ a track with chiptune breakdowns, animal squeals and raucous alarms that effectively equates to grown men giggling over the existence of the word ‘micropenis’ – which, of course, bears no connection to the instrumental whatsoever – for upwards of five and a half minutes. Returning later, though, I was startled by the presence of disco in ‘Superstar,’ but even this can’t resist mocking the duo’s fans, with the soulless robotic delivery of the line “Oh my god, what the fuck is this disco shit? / What happened to the dubstep?” interrupting the moderate elegance, for lack of a better word.

One of the rare breaches into melody, pleasant noises and unironically sampled vocal snippets comes in the shape of ‘EDM Trend Machine.’ Following on from the Haunted House EP’s ‘EDM Death Machine,’ this bizarrely listenable pastiche of house music’s more mainstream subgenres has a vocal feature from Bryn Christopher, who everyone had completely forgotten about since his attempt at a pop career in 2009, atop a, you guessed it, blend of current electronic trends including deep house drops and a few Martin Garrix-esque synths. Single ‘Begin Again’ also verges on musicality, with Swire picking up the vocal duties for the only time on the album. This definitely seems more like an unfinished Pendulum track – in fact, those who listened to 2010’s Immersion will feel almost too close to home – and the album is better for it. In the same way that a stale carrot cake is better at providing a modicum of sustenance than a brick, but a tad better nevertheless.

Where Knife Party’s adventurous tendencies and destructive energy have proved highlights of previous works, Abandon Ship’s contents fall into four specific categories: dissonant electro stab-house, rejected Pendulum tracks, painfully awful attempts at humour, and piggybacking on trends in the wider electronic music community. Perhaps if Swire and McGrillen had directed their efforts on just four tracks once again, rather than prolonging the struggle through 56 minutes of aural abuse, something pleasantly surprising could have arisen.

At least now I know never again to doubt my instincts.

Out now via Earstorm & Big Beat

Author: Xavier Voigt-Hill

I write words. Sometimes say them on the radio too.