Album Review

Shaking The Habitual

Shaking The Habitual

by The Knife


Rabid Records/Pod/Inertia
9.2 / 10
29th April 2013

Reviewed by Vincent Michaelsen


Two weeks ago I was talking to a friend about music and its ability in the future to begin and end as a truly human product or experience. Will music mean the same to us once the guitar or piano has played its last original tune? This friend introduced me to an article called ‘Midnight at the Singularity Disco’, a really interesting piece outlining the evolution of music beyond human control or consumption. Amongst other things, the article talks about the Japanese pop group AKB48, whose newest member, Aimi Eguchi, is a robot, designed to resemble each of the group’s existing members’ best attributes. Perfection... right? Naturally, there’s a fear about such things. The enjoyment of music may be some kind of emotional reflex in the brain, but when music becomes a mere trigger for that - an infinite machine-composed stream of ultimately fulfilling and forever original rhythms and melodies - I think I’ll simply stop listening. A few days later I heard Shaking The Habitual, The Knife’s first ‘regular’ album since 2006’s Silent Shout. Such fears disappeared in a shot - robots can’t make music this good.

Partly why I bring that up is Shaking The Habitual does of a lot of bridging between sound, genre and time. The Swedish brother/sister duo created this album with an intention of blurring the lines between organic and synthesized instruments. In the slightly spooky interview of sorts posted online along with the album, Karin Dreijer Andersson explains “we played traditional instruments in non-traditional ways and tried to find non-traditional ways of creating traditional sounds”. That’s not just abstract talk either. It doesn’t take long listening to the album to notice there are a lot of ‘real’ instruments along with synthesized ones and everything in between. On ‘Fracking Fluid Injection’ for example, you’ll hear a homemade instrument using bedsprings blended with vocals, but where one begins and the other finishes is not so easy to tell.

Similarly, Shaking The Habitual is The Knife’s most developed album in terms of genre. From opener ‘A Tooth For An Eye’ there’s a strong sense of polyrhythmic afrobeat/Caribbean influence. This is the rhythmic backbone of the album, particularly apparent in tracks like ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’, ‘Raging Lung’ and ‘Ready To Lose’. While that aspect has always been uniquely present, like in 2003’s single ‘Pass This On’, everything the group has worked at before is heightened on Shaking The Habitual. As such, the record is also The Knife’s most severe, dark and aggressive to date.

One of the record’s best songs, ‘Full Of Fire’, is just that. It’s a particularly confrontational track on an already edgy and self-professed political album. The lyrics may not spell it out, but between the intense instrumentation and vocal lines like “Liberals giving me a nerve itch!”, the angle is easy to gage. The last lines of the song “Let’s talk about gender, baby. Let’s talk about you and me” present a resolute challenge I imagine few would have the nerve to take up. Penultimate track “Fracking Fluid Injection” is a simple yet fierce reference to controversial oil and gas extraction. Here The Knife sonically illustrate something akin to the earth breaking open, similar in a sense to Jimi Hendrix’s infamous rendition of the U.S national anthem, dropping bombs all over it with his clever guitar work. Lastly, ‘Ready To Lose’, another of the album’s finest, is a more subtle song which appears to be directed at the still existent Swedish monarchy. The gentle and melodic percussion of the track offers some respite from the severity of the previous few, and rounds the record off perfectly.

If you made it to those latter two tracks in the first listen you’re doing well. At 96 minutes long this album is a behemoth. I wouldn’t say it’s always easy to listen to. Start the album halfway at 20 minute ‘Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized’ whilst washing dishes and you’ll likely finish before you realise that the disc is spinning. It is rewarding however. As threadbare as the saying is, Shaking The Habitual as an album is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s demanding, but between the stretches of intensity, moments of relative downtime like ‘A Cherry On Top’ and ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ work brilliantly.

Shaking The Habitual
, the album’s title itself, is at the very core of what’s going on here. Both musically and ideologically, The Knife focused on reworking things from the beginning - not reproducing. As Olof Dreijer said about the album, they “wanted to do something, but had to find a purpose”. If only that mindset was more common, because the result is incredible.

 




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