Harry Knuckles – “Tónmennt” Cassette

Rock is dead.
– Jim Morrison (1969)

“But the expectation now for modern music is akin to that for restaurant food: Why risk lousy food or roach-infested booths at a local diner when you can get to a known and dependable situation like McDonald’s or Denny’s?”
– Joe Carducci in “Rock and the Pop Narcotic” (1990)

Long live rock.
– Pete Townsend (1972)

Since the 1960s people have been saying that it’s dead, but news of rocks death has been wildly overstated. It served as a protest vehicle for young people in the 1950s and again in the 1960s, but it started to stew in its own prog fluids as the excesses of the 1970s made it seem at times more like a bloated corpse that washed up on the side of the river. Movements like punk and no wave (and disco) tried to kill it from within, but instead burned out quickly by consuming all the air around them before turning inwards and snuffing themselves out. The fact is that rock is still being made today, because as rocker Bob Seger said, “Rock and roll never forgets.”

That being said, Mr. Carducci does have a point (though arguably it’s the same accusation that every generation of old rockers level against the up-and-comers) that it sort of all got vanilla and corporate. Sure, Nirvana gave us an unexpected jolt and it looked for the briefest of moments like revolution was in the air, but the corporate world did what it always does and commodified the movement, selling us our wack slacks and kickers that were designed to look like they were falling apart but cost twice as much as brand new ones. And it does seem that if rock isn’t dead, it may have changed from a rainbow sherbet to a sort of low-fat vanilla that’s been sitting in the freezer too long and now has that gross beige sheen to it. Because it’s safe and dependable and most people don’t care about it all that much, not really care the way that a few do, those who spend their waking hours in pursuit of sound and listening to hear if Lou Reed finally hit that perfect D chord he was always going on about.

A lot of today’s rock is just plain boring. Especially the stuff getting force-fed to us by the corporate labels. Musically sound, but not bringing anything truly new to the table.

So many subgenres have splintered off of rock that you need an abacus to count them all. Most of them still orbit planet rock, just different ways of combining guitar, bass, drum, and singer. Call them “alternative” or “indie,” but it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Then there is Harry Knuckles. (♠)

Harry Knuckles doesn’t do rock.


Harry Knuckles wants to hurt you and scare you and confuse you. His new album Tónmennt came out last month, released as a digital download and a limited edition (of 50) cassette on Iceland’s FALK (♥) label, bypassing the artist’s own Lady Boy imprint and joining FALK’s intriguing roster. Tónmennt is not rock, nor does it roll. It’s the sound that was in my head last weekend while at the airport in Vancouver B.C. having just gotten off a 13.5 hour flight and been awake for close to 30 hours straight, but still facing a three hour layover before the 35 minute flight home. It’s a sort of pain behind the eye, like a dull migraine with a hummingbird-heartbeat-speed pulsating, giving you tunnel vision as you try for the fifth time to read the menu at Burger King and fail utterly because you just can’t put the words together. Constantly changing, but incessant. A soundtrack to waking REM.

Tónmennt consists of 20 tracks. It doesn’t seem right to call them “songs” – they’re electronic sketches, Knux’s sonic idea book, the aural map of his mind. In fact Harry refers to them as hlustunardæmi, which I’m told translates to “audio examples,” a perfect description. The opening sequences offer a palette of experimental electronica, a sound version of Jackson Pollock. But then things take a decidedly more beat-oriented turn, and we go through group segments that would make perfect frameworks for killer industrial dance tracks, frustrating only due to their briefness and ending just when you were starting to totally grove on them. The last third is more like the first, collages of electronic sound and sampling.

Experimental electronica may be the closest thing we have to an anti-rock. Gone are the familiar instruments and song structures. Instead we have sound that is often outside of time (and space), made by nothing more that electric circuits and the occasional pieces of metal being banged together. And this is what Harry Knuckles brings you on Tónmennt. It’s not a hubristic statement about rock’s impending Ragnarök; this is something that comes well after that event, outside of what you think you know about music, the sound of a universe we can’t yet comprehend.

Tónmennt is well worth the time and will reward the effort you put into it. Every time I play it I notice a dozen new elements that catch my attention and stop me in my tracks. You can give it a listen on the FLAK Bandcamp page HERE. So go there and expand your mind a bit. Don’t worry, rock will still be there when you’re done.


(♠) a.k.a. Frímann Ísleifur Frímannsson

(♥) Fuck Art Let’s Kill