New album ‘Animal Drowning’ and more
From the first moment Americans started getting any government relief during the pandemic, right-wing psychopaths have been warning us about the likes of TJ Strohmer. The Knifeplay frontman lost his job as a ‘pizza thrower’ and found he was actually better off with new and unexpectedly generous unemployment benefits. “I ended up making more money without working,” he jokes. Strohmer used his unemployed time to complete an addendum on B-sides from Knifeplay’s 2019 debut pearly and write the majority of the songs that ended up on their superb second album Drowning of animals. In fact, her debut single “Promise” pays homage to an icon who charismatically exploits the flaws and hypocrisies of capitalism to avoid the 9-5 grind.
The song’s hook – “You were born for this shit and you are what you are” – is a quote from Tony Soprano, a staunch determinist when it comes to justifying, say, the temptation to murder a civil. Her therapist, Dr. Melfi, is less convinced. She reminds him that as an American, he’s blessed with more options than anyone in history so far. Tony mockingly imitates him in response – “Right…America” - which more or less sums up the politics of Drowning of animalsa dream-pop album of sleepless nights and waking nightmares in a broken nation.
Although Strohmer expresses some regret at the idea of linking Knifeplay to a specific element of pop culture, the reception of “Promise” confirms it as the most powerful confluence of The Sopranos and shoegaze from Michael Imperioli’s band. “He played here a few weeks ago!” bassist Alex Stackhouse chimes in, as Strohmer retracts his earlier antagonism to being associated with Christopher Moltisanti – as the band recalls a recent ZOPA gig at Johnny Brenda’s, Strohmer asks, “I wonder if he saw us .”
The six members of Knifeplay are crammed into a living room during our conversation, taking turns reflecting on the scene in early 2010 that drew them from Utah, Michigan, Maryland and suburban Philadelphia to the city proper says: “lots of emo music and Alex G, when he was still a local guy. Yet Knifeplay doesn’t seem to harbor the nostalgia I’m used to hearing whenever people talk about that era.” There’s a lot of bad music that came out of it,” Strohmer offers, to the band’s chord and amusement. But even with the big bands, most of them remember that the music often served as ” background for people to screw up”. “At the time, there were 200 people at a gig but no one was watching the band,” guitarist John Klein recalls. “There are 100 now and everyone likes the music.”
As you’d expect from half a dozen people who hit the outskirts of Philly DIY for a decade, there’s a lot of baseball inside – one of Strohmer’s colleagues said opened the ZOPA gig, but not the previous colleague who runs the local Born Losers label and connected the band with Jeff Ziegler, the Drowning of animals producer who made his local representative shine by working with The War On Drugs and A Sunny Day In Glasgow. Every member of Knifeplay makes solo records, and Klein and Stackhouse played in a short-lived band with the person who inspired their latest single, “Ryan Song,” released today with a video by Ben Turok.
Not everyone in Knifeplay was completely on board with “Ryan Song” from the start — perhaps it was too vulnerable and specific, its haunting, almost solo piano arrangement, too far removed from murky, jarring shoegaze. they had done so far point . For Strohmer, these are the exact reasons why it was to be the last single from Drowning of animals: “I can’t wait to release this song because I want to break away from people who call us a shoegaze band.”
The most of Drowning of animals was written before the pandemic, and they’re already considering a plan for Knifeplay LP3, which Strohmer hopes will be more like “Ryan Song.” However siamese dream and without love have been referenced for guitar and bass sounds respectively throughout Drowning of animals, Strohmer notes, “What I listen to most now are stripped down, punchy lyrics and minimal music.” They’ve already taken steps towards this particular mode, most notably on “Bleed,” which pits “Ryan Song” against a far less flattering portrayal of an old friend: “Bleed your narcissistic wound/Drown in eternal death …but you want a hug.
Strohmer works through his ambivalence towards the writing with straightforward judgment, especially in a tight-knit scene where he runs the risk of the subject identifying so easily. “If it becomes a great song and it’s really tasteful and not just emotionally draining, most of the time the person won’t take offense,” Strohmer presumes. “And if they did, then…I still think it’s worth it, honestly.” Or, as Stackhouse puts it, “If it’s good enough, it trumps their feelings.”
Strohmer also tries to create distance from the “modern emo” adjacent to early Knifeplay; their first outing No funeral was a reference to a popular The simpsons same. While Strohmer felt his past attempts to write landmark lyrics in the past were regressive, he’s proud of “Ryan Song” for finding a way to approach his relationships with honesty and empathy. “I was writing from a reflective perspective about who he was instead of writing about my sad feelings.”
Notice, there are still a lot of sad feelings throughout Drowning of animals, although voices are often just one texture among many. The group would like to point out that Drowning of animals really took three years, though Strohmer recalls much of it was spent in post-production, leaning on Ziegler’s shoulder trying to find the technical language to express his second-by-second sonic ambitions. Drowning of animals is alternately grand (the “Nobody” opener), utterly desolate (eight-and-a-half-minute peak “Untitled”), and darkly beautiful (just about everything else), often resulting in shifts in tone and mood. granular and almost imperceptible arrangement, or the weaving of atypical instruments like slide guitar, 12-string acoustic and broken saxophone that brings “Promise” to its strident crescendo.
Strohmer’s description of “Promise” provides a crucial sense of place for Drowning of animals. More … than The Sopranos, “Promise” was influenced by the landscape of his youth in rural southern Maryland – an area “quite and financially well off” but nonetheless ravaged by the same deaths of despair most often attributed to the more economically depressed areas of the Rust. Belt. “It’s the kind of place where they put you on a treadmill to become industrious and a lot of people our age don’t know how to deal with being told that’s life,” Strohmer explains. . “That’s why these areas have such a grim drug problem with young people because people don’t want to do this boring shit that the system demands of bodies.”
He harbors no illusions about his ability to strictly support himself outside of the group just yet, but again, he sees the alternative as even less sustainable. “I tried to fight it many times in my life, I went to college and tried to follow this practical path,” he says, having only now experienced the epiphany that everyone everyone has the opportunity to decide that it is in them that they are truly born. “I have no idea what my financial future is, but I’m always going to write songs or express myself that way. It always comes back, it feels like it’s not a choice.