By Allison Stewart
If you've ever said to yourself, "I wonder what Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' would sound like if masked Swedish duo the Knife turned it into an opera, and mezzo-soprano Kristina Wahlin Momme was there too," then "Tomorrow, in a Year" is your answer.
(A question worth asking? After the jump.)
Natural selection being what it is, it's a wonder that the Knife, a delicate and weird brother-sister duo known for chilly electro-pop and a fondness for public disguises, has made it this far. Their double-disc "Tomorrow," created with additional help from Mt. Sims and Planningtorock and commissioned by a performance art group, pays homage to Darwin in the most amorphous way possible.
Its first half emphasizes muted nature noises with minimal, mostly operatic, vocal parts. A spartan collection of tweeting birds, snorting animals, howling winds and rain noises, some of it field music recorded by the Knife's Olof Dreijer, it's like a National Geographic special with feedback. As conceptual art presumably meant to evoke the long-ago noises of the Galapagos Islands, it's effective. As a stand-alone recorded work, it's practically indigestible.
The Knife features more prominently on the comparatively conventional second disc. "Colouring of Pigeons" (woozy, with cellos), "The Height of Summer" (almost pop) and "Annie's Box (Alternate Vocal)" (an otherworldly ode to Darwin's daughter) are bracingly beautiful antidotes to the rest of this undertaking, which seems more pretentious and difficult than it needs to be.
Depending on your ambient opera tolerance level, it's either a strange and moving tribute to Darwin's work or the best argument yet for intelligent design.
Recommended tracks: "Colouring of Pigeons," "Annie's Box (Alternate Vocal)"