Song of the Day: “Dirty Knife”


Now that our week of K-pop is over, we’ll be moving on to another genre to theme our selection of songs this week. I wanted to pick something drastically different to give each week a different feel from the last. So I went to the opposite end of the music spectrum. Instead of electrified, pop-infused bangers, this week we’ll be looking at a wide selection of acoustic folk music.

To keep things fresh, we’ll review a folk song with a unique sub-genre attached to it each day. We’ll then close the week with a classic folk example from music history.

Today, we’ll be looking at Neko Case’s “Dirty Knife”, from her 2008 album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood”. Her music fits into a few sub genres, including folk rock, Americana, indie rock, and alternative country.

Dirty Knife

Neko Case’s “Dirty Knife” depicts a haunting narrative about madness overtaking a man in a cabin. Throughout the song, Case uses vivid imagery and metaphors to make the story come to life. The first lines set up the premise. “So suddenly the madness came / With it’s whiskered, wolven, ether pangs”.

Some of the lyrics, like the repeated line, “The blood runs crazy”, invite multiple interpretations. The above line could be a visual description, or a way to figuratively describe the flowing madness inside.

In an interview with AV Club, Case explains the inspiration behind “Dirty Knife”, and how her family history influenced its creation.

“It’s a story my grandmother told me about a bunch of people in our family who all went crazy at the same time. People didn’t realize it ’til they went and found them in their house. They had just stopped leaving the house, and they were burning the furniture for heat. They were pretty nuts. I made the story on the record about one person, because I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the story work about several.”

You can directly see the details Case took from her grandmother’s story in the lyrics. “He sang nursery rhymes to paralyze / The wolves that eddy out the corner of his eyes / But they squared him frozen where he stood / In the glow of the furniture piled high for firewood”.

The above lines are emphasized even more in the song, and accompanied by dramatic strings that drive the words home. It’s this care and intimacy with her craft that Case displays which makes songs like “Dirty Knife” tumble around your head long enough to think you might be going crazy too.

Final Thoughts

One essential characteristic of folk music in my mind is its use of narrative and how carefully it’s paired with the music. “Dirty Knife” is just one great example of how powerful storytelling can be in music. If you wanted to look for another unifying theme for this week other than genre, a strong emphasis on narrative would be it.

I hope you enjoyed listening to “Dirty Knife” by Neko Case. That wraps up our first day of folk music. We’ll be back tomorrow with another. And as always, suggestions are more than welcome. I’m not exactly a folk expert.



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