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. There's an ideological fury at work across the record's hour-and-40-minute runtime; Karin's voice, in working through these ideas, is often so distorted and androgynous that she sounds like some fleshless entity howling her abuse into a gale ("let's talk about gender, baby/let's talk about you and me"). Underneath lies an almost unnavigable network of references and political commentary—one moment they're condemning egregious environmental practices like fracking, the next they're making a nod to Margaret Atwood's post-apocalyptic novel Oryx & Crake.
This overt politicizing isn't the only thing that's new here. Gone, for the most part, is the frosty electronic base of their past. Shaking is far thornier and more organic, full of industrial blurts, stormy drum and noise passages (ala Olof's work as Oni Ayhun) and extended drone sequences. Fans seeking another "Marble House" are offered only two throwbacks: the gorgeous vocal hook that emerges from the frothy murk of "Raging Lung" and the rippling electronic pulse of "Ready To Lose." Instead, across its expansive breadth, one hears echoes of Amon Duul's epic krautrock jams, the fried-brain electronics of Einstürzende Neubauten, and the urban tribalism of Gang Gang Dance. But, even in these moments of kinship, there's something so singular and unidentifiable that Shaking The Habitual sounds very much like something that only The Knife could pull off.
Beginning with the two lead singles—the tumble-drumming of "A Tooth For An Eye" and the muscular charge of "Full Of Fire"—The Knife open in fully martial mode, before retreating into the warbling drones that open "Cherry On Top." "Without You My Life Would Be Boring" is an intricately constructed stomp rounded out by what sound like elfish flutes, while "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" is bleak and rotten, a black mass of sorts that sits atop ritualized drumming and synth sounds that squeal more than they drift.
Surrounding these aural barrages are passages more similar to what The Knife have done since Silent Shout. "Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized," which acts as a twilight coda to the album's first disc, is 19 minutes of dour, slowly mutating drone that wouldn't have been out of place on Tomorrow, In a Year, their 2010 opera about Charles Darwin. The same can be said for the vocal-sharded droning of "Fracking Fluid Injection." "Networking" is a spastic, garbled bit of pseudotechno that closely aligns with some of the Oni Ayhun material. Within the album's expanse, these are moments that alternately seethe and soothe, testing and prodding both the listener's expectations and his or her patience. They also massage the album's plentiful organic charges into a sonic puzzle with an almost symphonic reach, one that's as challenging, bounteous, and ultimately unknowable as anything you'll hear this year.
Tracklist: The Knife - Shaking The HabitualCD1
01. A Tooth For An Eye
02. Full Of Fire
03. A Cherry On Top
04. Without You My Life Would Be Boring
05. Wrap Your Arms Around Me
07. Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized
01. Raging Lung
04. Stay Out Here feat. Shannon Funchess and Emily Roysdon
05. Fracking Fluid Injection
06. Ready To Lose
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