The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
Shaking The Habitual is as perfect an album title as you’re likely to see this year. For one, it speaks to the political overtones of the record and its attempts to jerk the public from complacency. Even better, it speaks to the music itself, which is far more challenging than anything the Knife has released before, proving that the seven years following Silent Shout have not dulled their blade (pun, of course, intended). Not to say that the Swedish duo were radio-friendly before or that their sound has remained consistent throughout their career, but Shaking feels like a great leap forward in terms of the kinds of compositions and productions the group is willing to create, and at two discs and nearly 100 minutes, the album’s certainly a sprawl. The first two tracks only hint at the directions they take here. “A Tooth For An Eye” bends steel drums and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s obtuse vocals into a sort of fevered jungle-pop, while “Full Of Fire” is a production tour de force, throwing every effect, whip-crack beat and pitch-shift up the Knife’s collective sleeve into a bracing everything-goes dance track.
It’s here that the album takes some decidedly risky left turns. It’s clear that their time working with tense atmospherics on the Tomorrow, In A Year opera rubbed off on the group, and Shaking will be remembered for the moments that it rejects conventional structure in favor of free-form tracks and moods. The primal “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” feels like some sort of soundtrack to the underworld; “Stay Out Here” has all the trimmings of a house number yet feels more suitable for a paranoid late-night-in than a fun night out, and “Cherry On Top” moves from hovering, unnerving textures to an equally unnerving pseudo-operatic interlude and back again. The deliberate, dark ambient pieces, like the 20-minute “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized” and “Fracking Fluid Injection,” feel underdeveloped, and they suck a bit of momentum out of the record, so it helps when the Dreijers’ pop sensibilities chime in. “Raging Lung” squeezes some undeniable hooks from its knotty center, while “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” rides free on a deranged (and downright catchy) groove. If this doesn’t sound at all cohesive, well, it isn’t really. But half of what’s great about the record is how it overwhelms, how its tribal-patter rhythms, abrasive melodies and spooky sound effects suggest a revolution even more than the lyrics or artwork do. As with most scabrous art, Shaking The Habitual is easier to admire than love—it’s unlikely even diehard Knife fans will return to this as often as their other records—but there sure is a hell of a lot to admire.