by JEAN-LUC MARSH
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. Possessing an iron grip over their image, The Knife has appeared in quasi-anonymous masks and outfits for the greater part of a decade. This tactic of anonymity, by no means exclusive or original, has been emulated by everyone from The Weekend to Rhye. A deeper look into Shaking The Habitual, however deconstructs this quintessence, and reveals what lies behind the stark, didactic curtains that shroud The Knife in a captivating cloak of mystery.
The enchanting, organic, tribal rhythms of “A Tooth For An Eye” beckon the listener inward, deeper into labyrinth of Shaking The Habitual. Behind the swelling instrumentals of bells and flutes, lies the true enchantress of this magical landscape. The rasping, howling voice of Andersson, distorted beyond recognition into something foreign yet unsettlingly familiar, contrasts against the twinkling, festive melody, delivering caustic criticisms of capitalist greed (“look at what we’ve got, and those who haven’t: bad luck”) and conservative ignorance (“rewrite history to suit our needs”), among other things, under the cover of an infectious tune.
“Full of Fire” dispels any of the recognizable, human sounds found on the album opener, transitioning from folkloric to industrial. It is a severe world, saturated with noises alternately terrifying enough to be repurposed to score a horror film, or so absurd that they seem incongruous amidst the leaden soundscape. Anchoring this harsh, metallic world to the previous, is Andersson’s voice, colder and less human than before, propelling the melody through levels on industrial grunge while spouting more messages of political dissatisfaction. “Let’s talk about gender baby,” she growls in a masculine tone, before trailing off into the void.
In fact, Andersson’s voice is the thread and the solder that binds and connects the disparate pieces of the robotic Frankenstein that is Shaking The Habitual, bridging the gap between the immediacy of the first disc and the more sluggish, saturnine second disc. The tracks in which she is absent fall apart, containing nothing to connect them with the already dissimilar sounds populating each of the self-contained universes that is a song by The Knife. This absence is especially acute on “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized,” which is essentially the edited end result of a long exposure listen to the sounds produced by a boiler room. In its nineteen minute span, nothing concrete is accomplished, and the listener is left disoriented and dazed. “Fracking Fluid Injection,” a wordless ode to the perils of pollution with a title so current and begging for attention that it hurts, ambles in a murky haze for the majority of ten minutes. It is a free-fall through a land of creaking doors and reverberated ululations, with no end in sight. Interludes “Crake” and “Oryx,” fall in much the same category, but are saved by virtue of their short duration, serving more as palate cleansers than interminable torture tracks.
“Networking” is the exception to this trend. Its fidgety, hyper-techno rhythm, the masterful work of Dreijer, has enough content in its sharp twists and turns to engage the listener, leaving them a willful captive to the buzzing, whining, and guttural noises that fade in and out of earshot. The remaining tracks on Shaking The Habitual are all exquisite; ranging from the exotic, carnival-like “Without You My Life Would Be Boring,” to the dichotomous “Raging Lung” with its anthemic chorus (“What a difference, a little difference would make”) in the first half and sinister whispers in the second (“Dig a hole in the backyard and drain the blood”).
Clocking in at over an hour and a half, Shaking The Habitual certainly does what its title sets out to achieve, but at what cost? Shaking The Habitual, while ambitious, is anachronistic, built for a time in which attention spans can survive a nineteen minute interlude and come out unscathed. Judicious use of the skip button to find the tracks on which Andersson’s transfixing voice is front and center, results in a much more rewarding, immediate experience. The nihilistic messages and political warnings will still be there, and so will your sanity. [B+]
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Stream Shaking The Habitual at Pitchfork Advance.