Monday, November 17, 2008


Knifeshow: Art Imitates Art

I have gotten in this argument many times; let me present this issue I continue to dissect, to you the reader. We all are aware of the dichotomy of life imitating art and art imitating life. This ebb and flow presents an interesting issue of widespread fear evocation and the spreading of other fabricated emotions, whether intentional or not. When dealing with sensitive issues, art that imitates life can create the boldest of creation. Keep in mind Orson Wells’ The War of the Worlds which actually created the nationwide panic that it emulated. Then there are artists like Man Ray who used the Black Dahlia killings, actual murder scene police photographs, as inspiration for his horror and death enthused art.

When life imitates art it is not the case of just dark interest and disorderly genius. There is Richard Ramirez who claims an AC/DC song inspired him. Subsequently, the residents of L.A. County lived a life of early curfews and overall fear of a sociopath on the prowl. He changed the way of life for several months and some would argue, forever. The rock star serial killer became so famous he married a fan while in prison. Now this dichotomy is almost history. Through the history of modern art and pop-culture a new dichotomy has evolved. No longer does art imitate life. Art now imitates, well, art.

So can you argue that art that imitates other art is just replication? The Incredible Hulk is an emotional and impulsive alter ego depicted as a giant, raging monster. Creator and comic icon Stan Lee revealed that the Hulk was just a combination of Dr. Jekyll and My Hyde and the monster Frankenstein. Is this replication or re-invention? Most comic book obsessives and casual fans alike can plainly see this correlation. The question is this; does Lee’s revelation of the Hulks conception spoil the relevance and brilliance of arguably one of the greatest of all comic book series? Is this influence or thievery? Do we call it inspiration or copyright infringement? The Hulk, while born in classic monster literature is more of a product of the combination of Lee’s own inner struggles and the perception and imagination created in his mind because of these works.

So then there I was, in my car listening to “here until it's gone” a new album by the Draper, Utah based Knifeshow and all I could think of was the preceding dilemma I have just been rambling about. The album is like a weird selection of Radiohead’s old socks. You know the soiled ones with holes that they threw out sometime between when they were working hard on the road after The Bends but before they became the musical messengers of a potential worm hole leading to God. This is another example of art that imitates art. To be fair, most new music and art are initiations of other art. The question is can “here until it's gone” stand on its own and move, maybe not beyond but at least away from, the art it imitates.

The album itself is finely produced and sounds really solid. I can’t completely tell if they used drum machines and samples, but if they did, they did it well. If not, well, the drummer has a nice little trick of at times sounding like a drum machine. I am almost always impressed when drummers sound like machines. The rest of the musicians are solid, they work pretty well together at creating an atmospheric sound rather than individual instruments but they don’t forget to take the time to remind you of the bass lines and guitar licks. The singer has directly summoned the vocal stylings of Thom Yorke and the band, the tones of Radiohead circa 1994. Knifeshow has done this, not in a potential musical innovation sort of way (as we now look in hindsight), but in a direct and literal sense.

The entire album seams overly derivative; it plays through like a musical photocopy, not quite as sharp as the original print but it gets the job done. For some this album will evoke excitement and some local buzz; and hey, let us be honest, if you are going to model your sound after a band, Radiohead is an ambitious and intelligent place to start.

My review can be translated fittingly through my experience once I put the album on the stereo. Halfway through my first listen, I just kept thinking about how much they sound exactly like early Radiohead. Now hold on, I’m not trying to compare a local band to Radiohead, I don’t seriously think you can hold up a local band to that level and either hail them or rip on them. The bottom line is that the album didn’t offer me anything at all new or different from early Radiohead and only provided the recycling of musical tones and atmosphere. I ejected “Here until it's gone” and even knowing I had a deadline, reached for OK Computer. A few days of listening to Radiohead passed before giving Knifeshow even a second thought.

Knifeshow is a talented band. “Here until it’s gone” is atmospheric and the tones are well thought out, it’s pretty good if they are trying to make an album that sounds like another album. So keep this in mind, in 1992 Radiohead was often referred to as “Nirvana-lite” and look at what they’ve done since.

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