THE KNOCKS REMAIN KEY PURVEYORS OF MODERN-RETRO ELECTRONICA WITH NEW ALBUM “HISTORY”
Very rarely does an album come along that lives up to both its predecessors and title. Thankfully, HISTORY — the third LP by The Knocks, released April 29 via Big Beat Records — provides one such perfect, blissful listening experience. The Knocks have been releasing a steady stream of music over the last few years, and within HISTORY‘s 12 tracks is the entire gamut of everything electronica — from EDM to throwback styles to all the sounds found in modern alternative.
Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson, the brains behind The Knocks’ infectious EDM sound, have spent the last decade crafting impeccable singles that have only matured with time. That growth is evident especially on HISTORY, where the duo collaborate with some of the biggest names in electronica and alternative music to bring a nuanced, nostalgic style to their polished tracks. As B-Roc says of how HISTORY‘s sound came about:
“There are songs from Dua Lipa and Doja Cat that feel like ‘new disco’ … So we see this happening and we’re like, ‘Man, we should just do this.’ This is what we know how to do, and now it all of sudden feels relevant 10 years later.”
The first song, “Bodies,” is a banger of an opener, led by the enchanting vocals and clever rhyme schemes of electronica group MUNA. The song epitomizes the sound that B-Roc and JPatt were going for, with 808s laying the groundwork of the track. High-pitched whistles and dropped beats — akin to jams from the 2010’s — hit achingly during the chorus, reiterated by lyrics about first loves: “Your body on mine / Body and mind / My body’s in the basement / Your body on mine / Body and mind / Bodies in the basement.”
“Walking on Water” follows, featuring the vocals of British electronic producer and singer-songwriter Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. The song is more free-form and vibe-y in how it conveys its theme of everlasting love. The lyrics, “I wanna tell you how, over and over / Real love feels like walking on water / I wanna tell you we’ll be here forever / Real love feels like walking on water,” capture the excitement and nervousness of romance, punctuated by off-beat synths that mirror the emotions perfectly via music.
The next track, “R U HIGH,” at first listen sounds like the most pop-oriented, club-ready song of the album. Upon closer inspection, though, listeners can hear the clear influence of art-pop electronica artists like Daft Punk and Giorgio Morodor through the variety of sounds that pop up. Australian singer Mallrat takes the lead with gusto, making sure her persistent question of, “Are you high?” is matched just as much by her confession of, “Hold me back but I want you back / And you hold me back but I want you back.”
“All About You,” the fourth song, was actually first released in 2020 as a follow-up to The Knocks’ first collaboration with Foster The People, “Ride or Die.” Here, the arrangement is even tighter, its highs and lows even greater — especially as the song opines about how one can still love so much even when a relationship is over: “And before I knew it / I became all about you / I became all about you.” The song pulls out all the retro electronica punches it can, making it sound like a callback to tracks by Fatboy Slim or Gorillaz.
The next song, “Nobody But Me,” is a throwback track that’s all over the map in the best possible way — encompassing everything from 1970’s bass lines and disco beats to Black Keys-esque guitar riffs. Alternative band Cold War Kids provide the vocals in a passionate performance that sounds genuinely torn between wanting to be with someone or to pursue a life of luxury alone: “Nobody but me / Got money in my pocket / Got the house in Hidden Hills / Until I find someone to share it with / Who cares?”
“Boombox,” the only song not to feature guest vocals and collaborators, is the next track — a bonafide hit in the making with its addictive beat and smooth vocals that perfectly match the theme of loosening up and letting go. With lyrics like, “Pull up to the parkin’ lot / Boombox inside of my car / Ooh, you need to toughen up / Whole place jumpin’ right now,” it’s hard not to bop along to the track and get in the groove for fun. Between cowbells, samples from older soul tracks and a slick bass line, the song simply rules.
The next song is “River,” and it plays into the album’s continuing theme of relationships both lost and found, with emotional lyrics delivered beautifully by singer-songwriter Parson James: “I’ve been feeling the weight of the water / Drowning, deep end, have we hit the bottom? / Fade in, to me again / Fade in, to me again.” The track employs clever use of autotune and modulation to differentiate between the concrete verses and ephemeral chorus — inviting listeners to let the sound wash over them like a river.
The next track is one the highlights of the album, “Slow Song.” Here, The Knocks manage to evoke Phil Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” concept, complete with soaring violins, synth sounds similar to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and an infectious energy to rival that of Earth, Wind & Fire. Electronica solo artist Dragonette’s Cyndi Lauper-esque vocals absolutely shine on lyrics like, “You’re the desert, I’m the rain / And we both know I never stay / But still you wanted it,” and, “I’ll keep beating on your heart ’til I break it.”
Indie pop royalty Cannons join The Knocks’ on the album’s next song, “Real Life,” which sees the lyrics tackling the topic of giving into the music because why the hell not — with the caveat that the singer could be more than she appears as she sings and speaks throughout the track: “It’s a real reason, it’s a real life / Not a perfect moment, just a little spice / It’s a real reason, it’s a real life / I could be a flower, I could be a knife.” The steady beat — almost early disco era in its overall sound — invites listeners to dance along.
“Bang Bang” is one of the shortest songs on the album, but it uses every second to its advantage. The track opens with a banjo-like sound and follows with twangy guitar underneath 808s and midis. A mix between country, Madonna and EDM, listeners might feel like they’ve experienced the full range of music by the time the last note plays. Donna Missal delivers the vocals here, evoking an inimitable sound both old and retro on lyrics like, “They say I’m different, they ain’t misunderstood / Yeah, I’m an alien in Hollywood.”
The penultimate track, “Gimme Love,” features the vocals of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Yoke Lore. The happiest and most upbeat song on the album by far, the lyrics promise good times and butterflies in the stomach — starting with its opening refrain, “You’re like the sun / And I could use some of your light.” The poppy arrangement sounds somewhere between TIEKS and the (occasionally-disco) style of Coldplay, making it hard not to smile and feel the love between the singer and his object of affection.
The final song is the perfect end to an immensely enjoyable album: “Stay Gold,” featuring electro-pop duo POWERS. The Knocks’ breakthrough hit, “Classic,” was a collaboration with POWERS, so it’s only fitting that they help finish the album with a track that starts with a smooth bass line and ends, ironically yet fittingly, with acoustic guitar. The song is a reminder to stay hopeful, to remember where we’ve been and where we’re headed: “And promise me that you’ll remember when forever passes by / To stay gold.”
The world of electronica, and the music of love in all its forms, have never sounded as good as The Knocks’ HISTORY. The entire album takes listeners on a journey of the mind and soul, culminating in The Knocks’ most polished work to date. You owe it to yourself to listen to the full album below — or on your favorite streaming platform — right now!