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Twenty Knives, "The Royal We"

Twenty Knives follow the compiled track "The Royal Vomitorium" and free EP The Royal Invitation with an intriguing album wherein a spaceship crashes and the pilot explores a weird terrain guided by a small robot. With an overblown digital game sensibility and an air of glam-electronica, this is slightly dated harmoniously malfunctioning music. I enjoy it more for knowing nothing about the artist and the whole concept being almost as laughable as it is mysterious.


In the 1970s, concept albums were popping up faster than hands at a meeting to get a free lifetime supply of Belgian ale. I can do without most of the better known ones but still have a huge soft spot for some of the so-called minor attempts. There was Virginia Astley’s twee pastoral record From Gardens Where We Feel Secure bathed in the minute sounds and details of a single day spent in rural England; an atmosphere of comfort and dread in time passing. Home’s The Alchemist also leaps to mind: a tale of schoolboy friendship, magic, the lure of treasure and sacrifice and the inherent destruction in both; somewhat sunk by muddy production. Both remain memorable and had an identifiable concept.

The Royal We has less clarity and is less reliable than either of those efforts. It perhaps belongs more with Spacemate and Klub Londinium (two projects of Sudden Sway, a largely forgotten group with an ear for vaguely futuristic concepts, an eye for mind-bogging inanity, and a bizarre sense of humor). Twenty Knives seem to have a similar approach wherein the future is a bit of an impenetrable mess, a plethora of hollow opportunities and irritating value systems.

The Royal We includes several engagingly clicky songs the most euphoric of which may be "Royal, Inc." Other pieces share a triumphal atmosphere quite out of keeping with some of the sinister lyrics. At least I think they are sinister, the record uses digitized singing throughout: doubtless necessary to the concept, but often hard to decipher. Luckily I enjoy going back to try to work out what’s going on. Somewhat clearer is "The Royal Computorium," a conversation between the robot and one of the "users" who have passed through the island. The robot’s intentions are unclear, it rambles on and cracks the occasional awful joke before drugging the user, who's responses are the sounds of one of two buttons for either yes or no answers. Following this, neither the title track nor two shorter, peaceful, instrumental pieces reveal anything.

The album was written, recorded, and produced by someone called "SJM" between 2007-2011. It is a puzzling facade which embraces and mocks notions of consensus and paranoia; a light record which nevertheless alludes to contradictory aspects of ordinary life in the technology-dominated near future. It was preceded by The Royal Invitation EP which can be downloaded at the Twenty Knives website where a message states: "This informational data repository is provided to you on behalf of the Royal Holy Island's Travel and Information Committee. Unfortunately we cannot field any further inquiries via this repository; please wait patiently for your brochure. If you are accessing this site via a public information terminal, please wash your hands to prevent the spread of disease."