Album Review The Knife - Shaking The Habitual4 Stars
Expansive, full of textures and spaces between sounds; ‘Shaking The Habitual’ is a record where often tone is as important as structure.
It might not be in the same league as My Bloody Valentine, but it’s been seven years since The Knife’s last album – the era-defining, universally praised ‘Silent Shout’ – and it’s safe to say that expectations are exceptionally high for ‘Shaking The Habitual’.
It’s not like the notoriously publicity-shy duo haven’t been busy. In 2010 they released ‘Tomorrow, In A Year’, a 90-minute-plus opera based on Charles Darwin’s life and his masterpiece ‘On The Origin Of Species’, and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s Fever Ray album was superb. But you sense in those seven years the duo have been deliberating about where their next move should take them.
Listening to ‘Shaking The Habitual’ it seems that that place is outside themselves. This is an album with an uncompromising vision. ‘No habits! There are other ways to do things,’ they have exclaimed, and over the course of this sprawling album The Knife’s ominously layered techno and disjointed vocals are taken into realms we haven’t heard them before. At times brilliant, at times obstinately testing, it’s the work of artists willing to push things further.
That the record so consciously and candidly follows its own unique path makes it difficult to get a hold of (indeed at times the album is like grasping a nettle). Where ‘Silent Shout’ was tightly focused and found the duo zeroing in on their sound, ‘Shaking The Habitual’ sees them wanting to ‘fail more, act without authority.’ The control shown on ‘Silent Shout’ has given way to starker experimentation and, here, the lyrics deal explicitly with inner and outer insecurities; the personal and the political.
Listening to this album is like closing the door and turning the lights off. You have no choice but to give in to it. But this isn’t easy listening. It is, as you might expect, a disorienting listen. Paranoid and uncertain, ‘Shaking The Habitual’ is 13 tracks and 98 minutes long (it’s released as a double CD) with six songs over eight minutes long and one clocking in at 19 minutes.
You’ll have heard ‘Full Of Fire’, a bracing fusion of jarring synthesisers and pounding drum loops. Karin sings about ‘Liberals giving me a nerve itch’ and ‘Asking questions that are easy to reply’ over what sounds like the laugh of a possessed baby.
Yet this gives an inaccurate impression of what this album is about as a whole. It’s expansive, full of textures and spaces between sounds; a record where often tone is as important as structure. ‘Crake’ is a 56-second discordant blast of sound which leads into ‘Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized’, the 19 minute track, which begins with 10 minutes of near silence before growing into a disconcerting drone. Elsewhere ‘Fracking Fluid Injection’ - nine minutes of rusty saws and harsh noises, chanting and what sound like seagull noises - is less a song, more the sound of a torturous breakdown.
It’s through these tracks that band seem to be answering the question they set themselves: ‘How do you build an album about not knowing?’ Yet that’s just one layer on a record where the scope and ambition is stunning. ‘Without you My Life Would Be Boring’ takes jittering Indian-infused rhythms to produce a hypnotising hymn with Karin ‘laughing at the future and we cry ’bout the past’ but asking the question ‘I’m holding on forever but how long will forever last?’
‘Raging Lung’ is ten minutes of brilliance: tribal drum beats and jazzy horns merge together into a woozy, tender space-age lullaby as they ask you to ‘Hear my troubles of mine’ before it fades away to nothing but deathly gongs. The cacophonous, frantic heavy breathing of ‘Stay Out Here’ is all bleeping and dance-floor-shaped, joining the dots from ‘Silent Shout’. It shows their unique skill that The Knife are able to make all these odd pieces fit together to make ‘Shaking The Habitual’; a bewildering and at times breathtaking journey.
Of course, it’s an album that asks as many questions as it answers. But that seems exactly the point. Is it too long? Probably. Is it worth investing your time in? Undoubtedly. Both heavy and cumbersome and light and uncertain, it will prove difficult for some to find an entrance to it, but once you’re inside you’ll find yourself enveloped by its bold experimentation and the stunning way they execute it. Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer still sound like no one else around.
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