Release Date: Apr 9, 2013
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic
Swedish brother-sister duo the Knife's 2006 album, Silent Shout, was a micro-masterpiece of tensely brutal yet richly musical Euro-techno. Seven years later, they've released a 94-minute follow-up that explores even wilder styles of mordantly nutso android bleat: Karin Dreijer Andersson goes all devil-Björk over a sprung-piston rhythm assault on the 10-minute "Full of Fire," and "Networking" is an electro-shrapnel blast where language smears into a kind of Cylon drunk-dial. The album's creepadelic centerpiece is "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized," 20 minutes of random white noise and cockroach skitter that's like a midwinter nosedive into a black fjord of the soul.
As befits a duo that dreams up an opera based on Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, The Knife is one of the smartest bands working. What couldn’t be counted on by the makers of 2010’s unlistenable Tomorrow, In a Year is that their 100-minute double album would be both smart and listenable—against all odds the best work Karin Dreijer Anderssen and her brother Olaf have ever done and a candidate for 2013’s best album, period. Think of Public Image Ltd.’s Second Edition, John Lydon’s (and Jah Wobble’s) famously abrasive masterpiece, with coherent politics and forward motion in the grooves.
The KnifeShaking the Habitual[Rabid / Brille / Mute; 2013]By Joshua Pickard; April 15, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGThere are times when music moves cyclically—turning back on itself every few years to regurgitate the same warbling synths or fuzzy distortion pedals or fidelically-challenged production techniques that we’ve heard at various points in the past. It’s inevitable really. Even artists who tend toward the innovative can be guilty of occasionally dipping into this well of musical familiarity.
After the cryptic teaser of the duo on the swing set, the press release manifesto, and now a 13-minute video to accompany its release, you might forget there was actual music behind the Knife's reappearance. But that's Olof and Karin Dreijer for you. The brother/sister duo's material as the Knife has always been loosely tethered to the their political stick-poking, especially when it comes to notions of gender roles.These concerns have never been as intricately threaded through The Knife's work as they are on Shaking The Habitual, their first proper album in seven years.
The Knife have always had an aura of mystery about them. Formed back in 1999, the Swedish sibling duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer chose not to play live until 2006. This was after they had released their third album, Silent Shout. Even at the few ‘live’ shows they have performed since then, fans seldom saw their actual faces.
Don’t say the Knife didn’t warn you that Shaking the Habitual wouldn’t conform to any preconceptions you might’ve held about the Swedish duo, its music, or even mass-produced popular culture in general, because the title all but announces the Dreijer siblings’ contrarian streak and critical edge. An uncompromising, intimidating, but rewarding listen, Shaking the Habitual is more than the name of the Knife’s long-awaited new project, but a mission statement that defines the artistic, political, and philosophical aims that Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer are advancing through their avant-garde music. After all, they circulated a manifesto in place of a press release, summing up the mindset behind Shaking the Habitual with the rallying cry, “No habits! There are other ways to do things.
Beware. Behind the lurid pink cover lies an inscrutable energy-field, dense future-matter, the blue box from Mulholland Drive viewed through a reverse-telescope. The Knife’s fourth album, Shaking the Habitual, is unnavigable and unknowable, almost impossible to write about and even harder to listen to. Whilst ‘dark’ has always been the go-to adjective in describing the Swedish brother-sister duo, the lacquered gloss of Silent Shout appears positively luminous from this vista.
Don’t call it their Kid A. It owes nothing to Radiohead. If Radiohead hadn’t first perfected their stadium-ready brit-rock, Kid A might have evaporated as just another whisper in a blossoming genre. But its success taught us one thing: in order to be revolutionary, you’ve first got to be acquiescent.
In the seven years since Silent Shout, the Knife's mythology has grown to the point where the Swedish duo seem like something other than a band. "Band” implies people banging on things widely agreed upon as instruments and making things that most people would recognize as "music"-- this feels like an inadequately pedestrian way to describe what Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer are. Perhaps even more so in their absence, the Knife have come to seem like a vibe, an ethic, a dark, not-entirely-scientifically-understood phenomena; other bands are to the Knife what matter is to anti-matter.
You can't accuse Swedish siblings the Knife of becoming stagnant, musically or otherwise. In addition to Karin Dreijer Andersson's solo output as Fever Ray and the duo's recent out-there opera (in collaboration with fellow oddballs Mt. Sims and Planningtorock), Olof Dreijer also found time to get his PhD in Political Science and Women's Studies. Aforementioned avant-opera aside, Shaking the Habitual is the first album from the Knife in seven years, following the release of the award-winning Silent Shout.
As is customary for any news item, review or think-piece on the latest album by The Knife, the extent of the anticipation for Shaking the Habitual must be mentioned. It has, lest you need reminding, been a long seven years since the siblings, Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, staked their claim on the electro-pop landscape with Silent Shout, and accordingly every announcement related to this new release – from the cryptic teaser art, to the balls-in-your-face (almost quite literally) aggressiveness of the promo videos, and even the announcement of tour dates - has seen some kind of minor internet meltdown. Except, it hasn’t been seven years since their last album; only back in 2010 they presented us with the soundtrack to their Darwinian opera, Tomorrow, in a Year, yet no-one seems to be mentioning it.
Seven years after 2006's Silent Shout album chrome-plated the reputation of the Knife as daring electronic stylists, their fourth album, Shaking the Habitual, reveals Karin Dreijer Andersson and her brother, Olof Dreijer, as fully paid-up digital intellectuals: Radiohead's none too distant Swedish cousins or, perhaps, 21st-century riot grrrls rewiring Aphex Twin with Björk. Informed by gender theory, the fall of the euro and some debauched, global-sourced Berlin club music, Shaking the Habitual walks a tightrope strung uneasily – but compellingly – between the head and the body. The juicy stuff – and it is juicy: sexually forthright, hedonistic and wild – is punctuated by arid longueurs that add little to the Knife's argument.
On their fourth studio album, the Knife don't change their habits as much as they push themselves to extremes. Despite its 100-minute length and political overtones, musically Shaking the Habitual isn't as radical a change as Silent Shout's sustained dread was from its predecessor, the relatively cheery Deep Cuts. The DNA of "Like a Pen," "From Off to On," and "We Share Our Mothers' Health" remains, albeit in heavily mutated forms, in the album's double-jointed beats, writhing textures, and deep tones.
It would be fascinating to have tea at the Dreijer household. The parents that spawned The Knife, the brother-and-sister duo of Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, indeed must be a curious pair. Famous for slicing out superior dance—and even pop—tracks set against a harshly disturbing artistic backdrop that’s fueled with anti-capitalistic fervor, the siblings return after a seven-year hiatus with Shaking the Habitual.
By and large, it’s the job of experimental musicians to lead us down paths seldom trod. The most intrepid, however, risk losing us altogether. This is the danger with Swedish duo The Knife. Their first album proper since 2006 is a fearless trip, a plunge off-road and deep into the woods. A ….
Though I know I used it accordingly and repeatedly during the construction of Slant's 100 Greatest Dance Songs, the word “academic” doesn't always have to be treated as a profanity when it comes to electronic music. Cultural studies and the pursuit of knowledge aren't inherently diametric to metric gratification. Taken together, they can snap the examined life into focus.
When the Knife announced their fourth album would be 98 minutes long, it felt like a punk move: the system of commercial music does not handle length well. Shaking The Habitual takes hallmarks of the pop duo's previous albums - ambiguous vocals, politicized lyrics, steel drum, acid house - and blows them apart with epic forays into electro-acoustic squall. Some songs are like new music or techno in their focus on soundscape, rhythm and structure, but in others melody takes over, as in pop.
Thus far, the Knife's work has been marked by a certain fearlessness. Ever since their 2003 single Heartbeats brought them to a wider audience, Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer-Andersson have deliberately swum away from mainstream acceptance, unafraid of who they alienate along the way: endlessly snubbing awards ceremonies or using them to stage oblique protests, their brand of electronic music getting steadily more challenging. Nor do they seem to be frightened of ending up in Pseuds Corner, as evidenced by Shaking the Habitual, their first proper studio album since 2006's Silent Shout.
The Swedes’ fourth LP is something else, but something profoundly exhilarating. Andrzej Lukowski 2013 Somewhere around the eighth minute of Full of Fire – a pounding electronic monstrosity that sounds like a techno version of a panic attack and is nothing like the longest song on The Knife’s fourth album – singer Karin Dreijer Andersson’s breaks into an interpolation of Salt-N-Pepa’s 1991 pop smash Let’s Talk About Sex. “Let’s talk about gender, baby / Let’s talk about you and me,” roars her heavily pitch-shifted voice.
The Knife occupies a space on a plane lying far above the terrestrial acts down on the ground. Hailed as the demigods of alternative dance music, it is clear that Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer can do whatever the hell they please, and the result will be labeled as the clarion call of a new era. A large part of this stems from the mystique cultivated in the seven years since the now legendary Silent Shout.
Come December, the Knife’s Shaking the Habitual and Jenny Hval’s Innocence is Kinky will find themselves on most year-end lists—the former somewhere near the top, the latter just kind of in there somewhere. Their placement on these lists will fill a particular need for those who pay attention to such things, surrounded as they will be by feel-good electronic jams and top 40 pop selections, because they will bolster the bona fides of a community that must balance each ironic pleasure with something cerebral and atonal. Their inclusion during Accolades Month may bridge, a little, the divide between our collective authenticity complex and the diluting powers of mass consumption.
"No habits! There are other ways to do things," read a line from the press text sent out a few weeks before the release of The Knife's first solo album since 2006's Silent Shout. It offered a manifesto of sorts for Shaking The Habitual, dropping hints as to the thought process that underpinned the making of the album. The intention seemed primarily to draw a parallel between the increasing creative deadlock the duo themselves had been experiencing ("we didn't plan to make another album," it revealed, "we wanted to do something again but had to find a purpose") and the wider sensations of malaise and stagnation currently affecting a world that's never felt more toxically imbalanced: gender inequalities, destruction of the environment, free market fundamentalism, the excesses of rampant capitalism and the corporate takeover, "a blood system promoting biology as destiny".
Remember that time the Knife made a great pop song and everyone hailed it as the coming of the messiah to the dance floor? Well, that happened, and then the Swedish duo seemed to fade into the background, never forgotten but hiding in the shadows as it produced chilling music with solo projects (Fever Ray and Oni Ayhun) and scored Darwinist operas. But the Knife proper never disappeared. It was always there, looming, as we awaited a tour or a new album.
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.
PARAMORE “Paramore”. (Fueled by Ramen).
To describe The Knife’s new album as ambitious would be to do it a disservice: Shaking The Habitual is so much more than a mere aspirational endeavour; it sounds like a need that had to be fulfilled, a satiated crave. At the same time, the Swedish duo’s fourth long-player is something of a sonic ordeal. It is hard work and, if at any point you switch off, your attention suddenly re-awakens moments later to a dissonance in your ear that is both unnerving and distressing.