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A Modern Classic: Young Knives' Superabundance, 2008, Post-Punk With Enthusiasm

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Young Knives are one of what seems like a million British punk/post-punk bands, a nouvelle vague of guitar-slingers whose similar sound has caused rock critics to regard the word "angular" as if it were a four-letter word. But the problem isn't that the bands were unoriginal -- the problem was, they were boring. Angular guitars, driving beats, and funky basslines sound fantastic in the right hands, with a twinkle and a smile. Young Knives do it the right way, and their 2008 album Superabundance is compulsively listenable, with nary a musical innovation to be seen nor a note out of place.

Being derivative isn't a bad thing, provided you can come up with a good enough hook: The Offspring have been writing Bad Religion songs for two decades; the Rutles and XTC (as the Dukes of Stratosphear) parodied the '60s while writing better songs than most bands in the '60s; and, ultimately, there's nothing you can do in rock that Little Richard, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix didn't do first. So the key is knowing who to cop from, and remembering that the whole point of rock and roll is the sexual catharsis that comes from singing about lust over insistent, throbbing power chords.

Young Knives know all about lust and longing. "Up All Night" is about a London party, full of vapid beautiful empty dancing insomniacs, and the impossibility of dressing up to look good enough for them:

I got dressed up, up to the nines

I took a look in the mirror, I wish I was thinner, then everything would be fine

At least I smell nice

So come on and breathe me in

What's the point, what's the point, what's the point?

What's the point, what's the point, what's the point?

Awkwardness is a big part of their shtick, as Wikipedia classifies them as a geek rock band. They are what Brits would call "public school boys," and they uphold it with their song "Here Comes the Rumour Mill," on a previous album. The pudgy guitarist and lead singer, Henry Dartnall, sings in an arch-British accent that would seem precious if it weren't so sincere. His range is somewhere around David Byrne's, often slightly higher than his register. Dartnall's bespectacled brother is the bassist, and goes by the charmingly upper-class name House of Lords. They started out "playing bad funk and Ned's Atomic Dustbin covers," and the jaunty synergy between House of Lords and bespectacled drummer Oliver Askew recalls those earlier days. So does their tendency to stretch songs into vamps, settling into repetitive lyrics and grooves, then breaking into an energetic, higher-pitched bridge, as in the album-closer "Current of the River."

Their lyrics are often fairly bleak, if sometimes a bit nonsensical: "We're all slaves on this ship/We're all slaves on this ship/This ship's sinking" in "Turn Tail," "Oh, the things we've done, the things we've done, the path has gone/Things we never said, the past is done, the past is dead" in "Rue the Days," "It looks like Mother Nature's got herself a whore/With a disregard for health and safety" in "Terra Firma." But they play with infectious enthusiasm: whether it's the residue of Ned's Atomic Dustbin, or the comforting British accents, the depressing imagery is always tempered by the tempo, and the vamps always give way to a satisfying, nervy crunch.

I don't know what it is about this album, but ever since I got it I can't stop spinning it. Sometimes a band just gets it right. Well done, lads.