Knodel has arrived to rock. It says so in the second line of the opening title track to the trio's glorious sophomore album, Dawn of the Butterfly. At various points throughout Dawn's dozen songs, other self-referential proclamations cryptically appear -- "Knodel unchained", "Knodel begins", "It all depends on Knodel", "Don't fear for Knodel", "Knodel wants to love you", "She's got Knodel and it's all right", among others.
The delicately poppy "Knodel is Gonna Take You Home" contains the most such mentions -- "It's a Knodel world", "Hear the Knodel songs of yesterday", "Trust in Knodel", "Knodel trust in you to take away", and "TV's on and Knodel's here". What are we to make of all this posturing? Pompous? Indulgent? Juvenile? Hackneyed?
On paper, maybe the band's approach does seem ill conceived. On record, though, it's just plain fun, befitting perfectly the sloppy kiss of futuristic retro madness delivered on Dawn of the Butterfly. Built on a base on laser-y synthesizers and tinny rhythmic propulsion, Knodel's geek-chic singing is delivered straight as often as it is either in Prince-ish falsetto, behind gurgling vocoder, or through snippets of French (the band reportedly hails from "Future France"). These guys delve into cheesy pop and twee metal with absolute sincerity, squelching any suspicions of irony. On stage, they don matching white body suits, a touch that screams Devo all the way.
Silly though things can get, Knodel may just steal your heart, alternately breaking and warming it with a refreshing array of sonic sensibilities. Like the greatest synth-obsessed acts, from Gary Numan and New Order to the Pulsars and Le Tigre, Knodel make the cheesiest moments -- witness a line like "Wish I was a spaceship flying through the sky with you" -- feel honest, tragic, and familiar.
Case in point -- the album's third song, "Red", is softly and sadly spooked enough to be this year's most tear-jerking non-love song. The entirely opaque lyrics -- "Red / How I feel on the inside / How I feel on the outside / Stereo is playing / Red / And the signs all point to: Red" -- make it so that you can transfer them to any personal anguish of your own. It could be a statement of social alienation, a discovery of disease, or just a common color that for an instant comes to represent so much more. "Let me see the light", the song finishes, "Knodel came to fight". By that point, Knodel has already won.
Victory comes with every song on Dawn, even when flitting between hip-shaking dance gems and wounded robot balladry. The sci-fi/fantasy-tinged "Shadowwrath" is musically catchy but thematically haunting, depicting the fall of a hero -- "Shine your boots / Join the battle / Riding high in the saddle / You can die without your boots on / You can never see the wind". The following "I Told You (I Love You)" is all keyboard whoosh, lurching drumbeat, and vocal angst, kicking in with that falsetto French to obscure the point of most pain.
"Knodel Blaster" is much more optimistic, as is the utterly simplistic "Knodel Rocks" -- "We'll rock you in the morning / We'll rock you in the day / And we'll rock you all night". Still, the album gradually feels darker than the band might let on. "Here come the shadows / One by one", they intone on "Mr. Scientist", while "Carry the Tears (That Fall from Her Eyes)" is an urgent, upbeat tale of emotional rescue.
The aforementioned "Knodel's Gonna Take You Home" makes for added delight, toying nicely with pacing and harmonizing. It's the cutest song here, flushed with romantic silliness -- "She's a fountain / Drink at night / Exhaustible / A drink to save her life". But the cheeky standout of Dawn is without a doubt the closing cover of "Kingdom Come", a typically commanding gem from the medieval-metal catalog of Manowar. Knodel have fun with it, but still maintain a straight face whilst partaking in quasi-Queen-style rock-conquers-all imagery. It thus stands as the album's grandest example of how even the most ridiculously cliché-ridden musical choices can be bent to the will of a truly talented band, for amazing results.
And that's what so surprising and compelling about Knodel -- even brimming with novelty, the band is never reduced to a joke. It's just three guys with a knack for recombining their tasteful influences and kitsch leanings into a streamlined new model. For everyone, and I mean everyone, who missed out on Knodel's first album, The White Hole, or the later split CD with Emperor Penguin, it's high time to discover the addictive, quirky creativity abound on Dawn of the Butterfly. Indeed, Knodel has arrived.