The Young Knives - Voices of Animals and Men

Holly Barnes 01/09/2006

Rating: 4/5

So, what makes a great English band? Well, greatness should involve some modicum of musical talent surely, but Englishness, how to define that? I like to think intelligence and humour would be a staple of the English sound- The Kinks and Pink Floyd certainly testify to that. The Young Knives have a definitely native approach to making music: debut album Voices of Animals and Men is infused with the concerns of everyday life mixed with the surreal and bizarre. The music is, of course, important, but it is the lyrics that are forefront in these songs and keep the listener riveted. Frustration with futile pen-pushing jobs combines with details on the idiosyncrasies of English rural life (rail travel, mugs of tea and marquees). The Young Knives are the geography teachers with elbow-patch jackets unleashed or the middle-management types freed from their desks.

You'll already be aware that The Young Knives boast an impressive knack for writing fantastic singles- catchy, engaging and packing a punch. The Decision has to be one of the best singles released in the last five years, with infinitely quotable lyrics: the Prince of Wales gets a mention, as do New Forest horses and sartorial defiance (“I mixed the matt with the sheen, it's not the way to be seen”). Later singles don't disappoint either: punkish Here Comes the Rumour Mill, Parklife-esque She's Attracted To and festival highlight Weekends and Bleak Days (Hot Summer) all make an appearance on the album.

I feared The Young Knives may prove to be simply the sum of their singles and bolster their release with weak album filler, but this is just not the case. While not all tracks possess the energy and punch of the singles, this isn't a problem; indeed, it would be wearying for the listener to wade through 14 songs of such. Instead, we are treated to the subtlety and introspection of Tailors, with the gentle falsetto repetitions of the tools of the trade: “button, button, needle, needle” and the multi-layered Loughborough Suicide, with its juxtaposition of sung and spoken vocals by Henry Dartnall and bassist brother House of Lords. Mid-tempo songs In The Pink and Another Hollow Line bridge the gap between the higher octane singles and Tailors, displaying the band's versatility and completing the album's solid tracklisting. And if the vocals throughout the album aren't pitch perfect and pristine, Voices of Animals and Men is all the better for it. There are squeaky falsettos, punkish shouts and jerky lines that are enunciated clearly for singalong ease.

While I doubt The Young Knives' debut album will be considered a classic in 20 years' time, it is far from a novelty throwaway offering. Packed with melodies, intriguing and distinctive lyrics and a refreshing sense of humour, Voices of Animals and Men is everything we dared hope for. The Young Knives have already cultivated a quintessentially English sound, perhaps 'greatness' is soon to follow.