CD, Hymen Records, 2011
It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then something comes along that makes me reclassify my world perspective. This could be something as arbitrary as the first time you see snow (and consequently are forced to grudgingly accept that it isn’t a conspiracy tourism boards cooked up to make boring countries seem interesting), or the first time you eat fresh avocado (and admit that it doesn’t, for all its squishiness, taste like bugs). Or it could be listening to Twenty Knives and realising that music really is not something that can be labelled, classified and sorted, that occasionally it exhibits massive, inexplicable aberrations, just like any other living, a changing organic entity.
“The Royal We” is Twenty Knives’ second intrusion into the sanity of collective consciousness (the first, “The Royal Invitation” is available as a free download from their website) and their first full-length LP. And that’s where accepted, standardised descriptions and definitions start to fail me. “The Royal We” can’t be analysed in terms of song structure or melody or harmony. It can’t be identified as sharing common percussive characteristics with other branches of electronic music. It’s not even worth describing their sound as ‘experimental’, because an experiment generally has an identifiable, valid outcome, and leftfield craziness that distorts perceptions isn’t what I would call a valid outcome.
But if you can survive that, you’re in for a treat: Twenty Knives delivers something severely lacking in electronic music today: humour. Yes, it’s the kind of humour that’s likely to get you punched by someone of far lesser intelligence, but it is humour nevertheless. You can’t help but smirk at the concept of an album built around digitised commentary from what appears to be a tourguide robotic entity. You can giggle nervously at the sense of paranoia induced on tracks like “The Royal Computorium”, where the listener feels part of the music in the form of yes/no button sound responses to this robot’s slightly inappropriate questioning. And you have to laugh out loud at the incongruity of track names like “Eyeball Shoes, Petting Zoo”.
Technically, “The Royal We” flays the skin off dubstep and nails it to a brick through the window of IDM. Then it goes and has a drink in the local pub with psychedelia. Twenty Knives is like nothing you’ve heard before, and exists in that gray area of things you wish you never had heard and things you can’t help listening to repeatedly. If albums went viral, “The Royal We” would swiftly become the aural equivalent of “Two Girls, One Cup”. I can’t say I like it (for fear of being institutionalised), but I also can’t say it’s not good. Listen at your peril, but it may just change your life.
— David van der Merwe