Artistic freedom. It’s something that many musicians and bands strive for – the ability to record whatever they want, however they want to record it. And that’s where Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowd-funding platform, comes in. The company helps bring creative projects to life through pledges from fans and has become increasingly popular with musicians since being launched in 2009.
Among those deciding to break with convention are Ashby-de-la-Zouch trio Young Knives, who return after two years away with their fourth album, Sick Octave. Setting fans a crowd sourcing target of £10,000, the band decided to work independent of a label and give themselves the opportunity to be artistically free and make the record they wanted to make – without outside interference.
It was a big step for a band whose debut album, Voices Of Animals And Men, was nominated for the Mercury Prize, but it was also one that felt natural for Young Knives. They have always existed outside the mainstream and Kickstarter is essentially just an extension of that aloofness. However, despite the early promise of Sick Octave, the result of all the freedom Young Knives could possibly require is somewhat mixed.
From the start of the record, it’s very clear that Young Knives have really gone it alone on Sick Octave. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone in their right mind would have otherwise allowed them to kick things off with 12345, which is almost 30 seconds of children talking utter nonsense. Thankfully, Owls Of Athens quickly restores order, as well as providing a better indication of the album’s menacing direction.
There’s certainly no doubting Young Knives’ commitment to making their rawest and most experimental record yet. “We wanted to make something dark and industrial, and a bit crass, but with a sprinkling of pretty shit,” said frontman Henry Dartnall, in what is virtually a perfect summation of Sick Octave. Songs such as the prickly White Sands and chaotic All Tied Up are as rough around the edges as you can get, making the most of homemade percussion.
Elsewhere, Somewhere Awful is one of the album’s brightest moments, with its jagged guitars and Dartnall’s aching vocals drawing comparisons with Hail To The Thief era-Radiohead. “I don’t care, I don’t care/ it’s not like I’m sticking around here for long” he wails, with the same sense of hopelessness as Thom Yorke himself. Then there’s the more accessible We Could Be Blood, which is a more straightforward rock number.
Yet, the undoubted highlight of Sick Octave is the brilliant Marble Maze, where the band are at their most compelling. The dramatic strings and Dartnall’s commanding vocal come together for a thrilling four minutes, complete with the catchiest guitar hook on the record. However, as the album moves into its final third, the consistency begins to waver drastically and the eccentricity becomes an annoyance.
The bleak and atmospheric Preset Columns/Default Comets suggests the band are trying too hard for their own good, with the sound of crying babies particularly off-putting, while Green Island Red Raw is a discordant mess, one that sounds like something they threw together in a mad rush. Bed Warmer and closer Maureen go someway to readdressing the balance, but there is no getting away from the overall lack of structure.
Ultimately, Sick Octave is an interesting and highly ambitious return from Young Knives, with the trio embracing the opportunity to do as they please. The result is an album that pushes their sound to completely new places, while occasionally going so far off the beaten track that it may well have you reaching for the skip button. It will most definitely be divisive among fans, but then the most adventurous music usually is.