Animal Drowning by Knifeplay Review

Animal Drowning by Knifeplay Album Review
Animal Drowning by Knifeplay

Animal Drowning by Knifeplay Review

The Philadelphia band’s dark introspective music combines shoegaze and dream pop.

In 2015, TJ Strohmer founded Knifeplay as a solo bedroom project as a way to avoid the college-to-soulless-desk-job pipeline. As he later explained, “We’re not being nurtured to discover ourselves in any way.” Knifeplay eventually merged shoegaze and dream pop with bassist Alex Stackhouse, guitarist John Klein, keyboardist Max Black, and drummer John Sciortino. As the band explores grief, abuse, and self-loathing on their second album, Animal Drowning, Knifeplay balance dark introspection with empathy and patience.

‘Animal Drowning’ explores sounds reminiscent of Godspeed You! The sound of Black Emperor is characterized by foreboding orchestral strings, foreboding guitar drones, and thundering percussion. In addition to the cello, violin, piano, and additional guitar, they enlisted a number of collaborators to flesh out their vision. As with the Canadian post-rockers, Knifeplay strive to guide listeners past calamity toward hope. As the fuzz tower crashes down in “Nobody,” strummed acoustic guitar persists; in “Cold Rain,” a full-bodied choir pushes back against guitar feedback. In the eight-minute “Untitled,” Strohmer’s even-keeled falsettos at the chorus’ loudest crescendos and the bright guitar that overtakes the drums at the end speak to perseverance despite turmoil. A match will eventually light with enough friction, Knifeplay’s moments of tension remind us.

Despite this textural songwriting style, Strohmer’s lyrics give Animal Drowning its weight. On standout single “Promise,” Strohmer takes a sarcastic approach to his conservative upbringing in rural Maryland based on the wisdom of Tony Soprano: “You’re born into this shit/And you’re what you are.” His words float like airy soliloquies, opposing the blown-out, almost doom-metal guitar behind him. A Sunny Day in Glasgow and the War on Drugs producer Jeff Ziegler further exaggerates these extremes.

The album’s ten tracks explore difficult moments in Strohmer’s life, however cryptic. By repeating phrases over and over, he dilutes his traumas, making them sound unfamiliar and unimportant. In another instance, he ignores the backstory entirely in favor of focusing on one specific detail, repeating its unimportance until he believes it himself. Using the aphorism “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Strohmer creates his own shorthand: “Failure held its mirror up and teased you.” Strohmer is done with letting his old wounds debilitate him, and these songs suggest you do the same.

Animal Drowning weaves these grand crescendos and lyrics of self-growth into an emotional reckoning that intends to overwhelm. In the background, a saxophone wails while someone screams. Meanwhile, distorted guitars border on apocalyptic over a brisk piano melody. As beautiful as they are dangerous, listening to the album is like cave diving: narrow paths and dark, water-filled rooms. Among its most rewarding tracks are “Promise,” “Hearts,” and “Cold Rain.” Without pretension, Knifeplay pushes shoegaze to embrace experimental rock textures, emo earnestness, and string compositions. If Knifeplay began as an outlet for self-discovery, Animal Drowning renders interiority in vivid, four-dimensional terms.

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