Knife Party – Abandon Ship: Review

I came across a fantastic description of Knife Party the other day as I was surfing the web and reading about their new, upcoming album.  The discussion was about how their album had been pushed further, to late November now, after being original planned for early October, then late October, then early November.  There were a few Deftones references as people legitimately had never heard of the band, formed by a breakaway duo of Rob Swire & Gareth McGrillen from drum and bass legends Pendulum.  The description was designed for those not familiar with Knife Party’s brand of music and called it “the metal of EDM”, heavier and with less emphasis on mass appeal but their own aural vision of what should be.

Arriving earlier than expected due to an iTunes leak, Abandon Ship is certainly a departure from the mainstream and more ubiquitous dance music of today, but it’s not quite the heavy and dubstep-riffing set of tracks that you might have expected.

Being Knife Party’s debut album, this is their first real attempt at putting across a full and bodied theme to their music other than the sporadic EPs of club hits that they’ve put out so far.  In keeping with that, there’s nothing that seems quite as dark and strong as tunes such as “Internet Friends” and “Power Glove”.

“Resistance” comes close, and is perhaps the most old-school Knife Party song to be found.  With a glorious Simpsons reference (knifey-spooney anyone?) it plays on pop culture in the way that Knife Party always do, but it also has the driving melodies that the band are known for.  “Give It Up” is almost an indistinguishable reboot of perhaps their biggest hit “Bonfire”, with the same driving bassline, similar melodies and similar vocals.  It doesn’t hit quite as hard when you sense what is coming, but it’s still worth it.

A few tracks appear to be on the album as a way of ticking of EDM’s checklist of subgenres.  “EDM Trend Machine”, the spiritual successor to the satirical delight of “Death Machine”, takes the deep house route that has exploded onto the scene over the last year – with the sort of groovy basslines and soul infusion to dance music that you would expect from a Disclosure song.  “Boss Mode” is a trap song that fits really well with the Knife Party aesthetic and is another album highlight.

Also in true Knife Party style, this album features a few curveball songs that are a little more out of the ordinary.  “Superstar” takes things back twenty or thirty years with a much more poppy and disco song, even self-referencing itself with “Oh my god, what the fuck is this disco shit? What happened to the dubstep?!” The song “D.I.M.H.” (standing for the Devil’s in my Heart) has a 90s feel to it as well, with a bland drop that makes it easy listening relatively speaking.  Then there’s also the charmingly titled “Micropenis” that has a wavering 8-bit melody running through it.  These all add character to the album and make it add up to more than the sum of its parts.

Rob Swire mentioned at the start of the year that himself and McGrillen might go back to creating new music for Pendulum in 2015, a move no doubt to appease the legions of fans the more popular group have.  Knife Party was always a musical experiment to them, creating songs that they enjoyed making and doing something different with EDM.  Perhaps the album’s highlight is what I like to think is a transition song between KP and Pendulum, which is “Begin Again”.  With Swire getting back on the microphone for the first time for the new band, and the lighter and more progressive build-up it’s definitely familiar but then the drop is a bit more excited and melodic, making it clear that you’re still listening to Knife Party.

Abandon Ship is a good album full of tracks designed to mimic the trends and genres within EDM with a unique take on them at the same time.  There’s nothing massive here for those with a fondness for the big hits, and for a band known for them it’s a shame, but when added to the back catalogue as a whole I think this album really rounds things out nicely for Knife Party.

Whether the big Pendulum reunion sidelines what is one of my favourite bands for the foreseeable future I don’t know, but if this is it for now from Knife Party I think I can be contented.

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