Impossible as it is to single out one record for its influence upon any musician or music fan, in recent months, despite working hard on the debut LP by my band in violet, I have regularly found myself coming back to an album that for me stands as one of the finest musical concepts ever conceived. Tomorrow, in a Year by The Knife, Planningtorock + Mt. Sims was released in 2010, essentially as the score for an opera based on Charles Darwin's theories of evolution and ‘On the Origin of Species’.This may sound a rather confusing idea, but across the course of working on my own album I have found Tomorrow, in a Year to be a constant source of inspiration and a reference point into sonic peregrination.
Beginning with the simple trickling and drips of some mysterious liquid, the opera opens with brooding deep pads breathing in the area of a dark oceanic cave. It's clear from this introduction track, and its neighbour on the record, ‘Epochs’,that there will be no traditional listening here. From the hugely impressive operatic performance, which covers the entire range of the human voice to the creepy Jeff Wayne-esque synth lines, this is an extremely diverse listen. The conceptual elements of the composition are also brought to life with great intelligence, as the record builds from the tiniest of cells forming life in the introduction, across evolution and through the progression of life. Whilst often very minimalist, and almost silent at times, there are also enough moments of unpleasant industrial noise to keep the listener on their toes.
Fundamentally, Tomorrow, in a Year regularly explores the boundaries between music and “sound”. It often favours the synthesis and dissection of noise over traditional songs. Tracks like ‘Letter to Henslow’ are focussed on the imitation of bird calls, setting a scene and memory that drops the listener within the constructed. Soundscapes of this type provide some of the more intriguing moments of the record, with the concept of the opera still being maintained despite a lack of both words and, often, music. For everything abstract and dissonant about this album though, there is still a wealth of musical form. It’s the combination of music and performance alongside explorations of sound that creates something really special. ‘Annie's Box’a beautiful, filmic scored vocal and string piece, and across the, generally more musical, second half of the record there are more awe-inspiring moments that fit the description of being genuine songs.
The meetings of old and new, contemporary and classic, acoustic and electronic, are what really allow Tomorrow, in a Year to shine in the way it does. This record, much like mine (or so I like to think), focuses on blending sounds and the exploration of soundscapes and scenes. For the period of time we've been composing and producing the songs, I've found myself writing in a way in which the sound of an idea steers the direction. In fact, our regular blend of electronics with acoustics led to this record becoming a minor obsession, to the extent that I will have a copy of this record on me almost everywhere I go so that I can play a song or two when I get the chance. Most of this album is far from direct, and it doesn’t conjure up immediately recognisable similarities with other records, but it carries feelings in a way that can't be described in words. That's what the best music is really all about. The most challenging, obscure and difficult works are the ones that typically grow into recognition because we want to be intellectually stimulated and we want to be challenged. Tomorrow, in a Year is a deliberate subversion against the norm of what music is and can be and should be. Like the man upon whom the record is focused, the composers here have set out to better understand the world, and to change our understanding of it, in this case through sound.
Without a doubt this will be a work that receives its full recognition as time passes and the concepts it has introduced have sat with people for longer. It’s unusual, it's difficult, it's challenging but above all else it is a giant accomplishment in creativity. Those who are initially turned away by its unusual nature should wait for the right frame of mind to give it the time and respect it deserves because this is something truly special.