Music, it often seems, is the most abstract of the art forms. Even the paintings of Kandinsky or Pollock seem more comprehensible than this mysterious medium where sounds float in midair and combine together to evoke pure emotion. The new kNIFE & fORK album, The Higher You Get the Rarer the Vegetation, derives its title from a Salvador Dali quote and only gets stranger once the songs start playing. But, amidst the strangeness, it’s unquestionably beautiful and affecting, even if it’s not always clear why.
This sophomore release from the band, comprised of Laurie Hall and Eric Drew Feldman (who have worked with artists such as Pixies and PJ Harvey), is nothing if not confident — an amalgam of rock, ethereal vocals and more experimental sounds evoking a dark atmosphere.
It’s impressive, though, how well the unusual, and often distorted, sounds work for the album. Though The Higher You Get doesn’t have any Top 40-friendly tracks, it immediately sucks the listener in by having a very specific that evokes the feeling of some of Radiohead’s best work without sounding derivative.
Perhaps part of the reason the album’s able to get away with this balancing act of inviting experimentalism is its brevity — there are only eight songs that add up to less than 40 minutes. Still, that’s a good length for this material. The Higher You Get never feels too long (even during the 10 minute long track, “The Revelator”), and it feels complete. As such, the songs are all excellent (particularly “Nicotine,” a hard hitting love song about addiction and all that is bad for you), but they work better as pieces of the whole.
The Higher You Get, like many great albums, likely won’t appeal to everybody. Though the sound is refined, it’s also very intense and, at times, a bit scary — this isn’t something to put on while studying or drifting off to sleep. In fact, the sound may be the direct antithesis of bubblegum pop and is as difficult to describe as it is to classify.
The Higher You Get is certainly not full of happy tunes, nor is the album about the heart wrenching foibles of love we expect pop music to be. Still, it evokes emotion in a very real sense. For those who appreciate a bit of edge to their music, kNIFE & fORK’s album is well worth seeking out.
Printed on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 as: 'The Higher You Get' lives up to its name