The Knife, "Silent Shout"
I'm not sure that anything I could write about the most (justifiably) lauded record of '06 will come as a surprise. A few months back I wrote that:
...their presentation of electro as a covertly biological form kinda picks up on where Bjork left off after the first two solo records (kinda like Goldfrapp's nature fixation), but also has all of the medical/power anxiety of, say, The Klinik (they're reappropriating the outfits of plague doctors fer fuck's sake - maybe it's Jung, maybe it's "The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen", but there's always been something abject about those beaks)...
I'll stand by that, pausing only to add that their focus on family dynamics is as equally captivating and potentially deep as their nature and medical fixations. Instead of going any further, I'd like to talk about how the record circulated in 2006 and what it meant to people.
Odds are you've heard the record, and odds are you heard about it from a friend and/or told someone else about it. Obviously there's nothing new about net-aided word-of-mouth buzz, but people's reaction to "Silent Shout" seems different to me, and not only because, unlike so much blog-hyped product, "Silent Shout" doesn't sound as though it's aged or lost anything since the day I first heard it - I can quite easily picture myself listening to this ten years from now, maybe on a rainy April Sunday, just after "Script Of The Bridge" and just before a bootleg of the 2011 Cocteau Twins one-off reunion show (fingers crossed).
No, "Silent Shout" didn't just resonate with people, it seemed to invite sharing in the most empathetic sense of the word. No hipster "I was here first" bullshit, but a heartfelt belief that this was music that your friends would benefit from by hearing. A recently removed YouTube vid of the band playing a radically revamped version of "Heartbeats" on tour (The Knife had never considered the possibility of being a live act until the success of "Silent Shout" indicated that there was a demand) included shots of a wide-eyed audience singing along with every word. The comments beneath the video often noted the audience's enthrallment with approval, The Knife becoming a conduit for reciprocal empathy and love. People in 2006 didn't just want The Knife to succeed on their own terms, they wanted The Knife's music to affect others the way it had affected them. When you consider how introverted, quiet and sparse much of "Silent Shout" is, it seems remarkable that it would inspire active communal engagement.
I'm not exactly sure what this means or how to theoretically frame it (the first techno-communal attempt to resolve Derrida's problems with "the gift"?), but I do think that it's a moment of rare beauty and hope that the best record of the year also managed to bring out the best in people: kinship, empathy, love.
Kirlian Camera, "Coroner's Sun"
Kirlian Camera's discography remains one of the most eclectic in dark electro: running from italo-disco to neo-folk to pure ambient noise, their albums have been alternately terrifying, compelling, deliberately opaque, playful, infuriating, and heartrendingly gorgeous. With 2004's "Invisible Front.2005" Angelo Bergamini and Elena Fossi attempted to combine as many of the disparate elements in the project's history as possible. Astonishingly, they succeeded at all levels and even worked in a stellar club track ("K-Pax") for good measure. Now with "Coroner's Sun," they've managed to produce an even more varied record, which shifts between ethereal gossamer ("Beauty As A Sin"), haunting dirges ("Koma-Menschen"), and pure, screaming madness ("Kaczynski Code"). And it all might just make for their best record yet.
Their craft refines as their scope expands. Their power magnifies as they age. Moves towards accessibility are countered by ever strengthening psychoses. No one save Angelo Bergamini would muddy a straight 4-4 EBM by the numbers floorpacker by overlaying the shrieking of one of Theodore Kaczynski's manifestos, let alone use an album track to distribute his actual phone number to the ghosts that haunt him. Kirlian Camera continue their improbable, magnificent ascent in their twenty-sixth year of existence.
Katscan, "Weapons Of Crass Dysfunction"
Katscan's sophomore release gave DJs plenty of stomp-fodder to drop in 2006, and admirably expanded from where their "Feral Bios" debut left off. They've got their snakebite and speed pogo-synth formula down to an art ("A Time For Hate," "You Love It You Shlaaggs"), but aren't afraid to go for classic 90s EBM ("Damn You All To Hell" hearkens back to quality Leather Strip material), or bump-n-grind industrial rock that owes not a little something to Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson ("Zombie Machine'). Satisfyingly crunchy throughout, and full of cheeky-monkey cockney irreverence.