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Dawn of the Butterfly (My Pal God)

Wednesday, May 22 2002
Most concept albums are overblown, misguided, and unintentionally silly. Take Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman's 1974 opus Journey to the Center of the Earth, which stuck his overcooked organ pomposity in the midst of a full orchestra and offered a pretentious English narrator stating lines like, "Now they were in the giant mushroom forest." In '74, such a record may have seemed like a grand statement, but today it elicits gales of derisive laughter. (Worst of all, you can't dance to it.)

Now comes Knodel, standing at the crossroads of the concept album and a new wave dance party. On its second full-length release, Dawn of the Butterfly, the band tells the story of a battle against an unnamed foe from outer space, using goofy lyrics and old-school synthesizers to get its ridiculous plot across. The tale goes like this: Knodel sets off for battle, then joins forces with the Shadowwraith, the only being strong and brave enough to fight the horrible evildoers. Together, they use the Knodel Blaster, some sort of hyper-powerful boombox that "blasts the music that sets us free," to bring about liberation. After releasing its girl from captivity, Knodel celebrates with a triumphant rendering of "Kingdom Come," the absurdly histrionic anthem by '80s heavy metal act Manowar.

Throughout the record and press materials, Knodel claims to come from "New France," even throwing in some nonsense French lyrics to back its claim -- although lines like "I told you I love you/ Demandez pourquoi?" from "I Told You (I Love You )" probably wouldn't get you far in Paris. The English lyrics are just as ridiculous, as this couplet from "Knodel Blaster" demonstrates: "I heard the Knodel Blaster/ Its message was so clear/ Don't fear for Knodel/ They'll never lose the war." As for music, the band traffics in a cold and bouncy sound made from vintage keyboards and live drums, with the occasional guitar and synthesized beat tossed in. Gary Numan perfected this style in the early '80s, and everyone from Flock of Seagulls to No Doubt tourmates the Faint has been peddling it ever since. (When asked about Numan in an interview with online magazine Atomic Cocktail, the members of Knodel claimed not to have heard of him.) While it is often very robotic in nature, Knodel's music is imbued with certain things robots don't have -- like humor and geeky danceability. And then there's the group's vocals, which are generally run through a vocoder, a nifty device that computerizes the human voice and adds a kitschy pleasurability.

While the band's approach may be nothing new, no one ever said music had to be original to be fun. With Dawn of the Butterfly Knodel gleefully wreaks havoc on the idea of the concept album -- as well as the retro-futurisms of the new new-wave sound.

About The Author

Cory Vielma


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