The Knife, Shaking the Habitual, Rabid/Mute/Brille
This April, sister-brother Swedish tag-team The Knife release their first full-length record since 2009’s score for Tomorrow in a Year, a Darwin-inspired opera, and their first album ‘proper’ since 2006’s Silent Shout. The ultra-modern hyper-now drip-feed of information about this record has set the muso-world on edge; their upcoming tour sold out at frustrating speed, before a slew of festival dates were announced and everyone could relax. Videos for singles ‘Tooth for an Eye’ and ‘Full of Fire’ became available on their neon website. The tracks were… dancey. The videos were… odd. The album became even more anticipated. The Knife ‘dropped off’ a manifesto at an independent UK record shop. The text went viral. It’s a rambling, yet somehow coherent, zeitgeistian keening for meaning in a world gone unfair and sour: “But how do you build an album about not knowing?/ Now your voice is in my throat, floating there…”
Shaking the Habitual echoes this uncertainty. It’s an album off-kilter. It sounds like the desperate sloughing off of your own skin, trying to find out if there is any authenticity beneath. As such it’s at times barely listenable. At times it is barely comprehensible. At times it is adorable and, at times, it is obnoxious.
It’s an album of multiple parts – as indicated by its running time. At over an hour and a half perhaps it could have been edited down a little more – but what would have been left out? Some tracks lean towards the Yokokimthurston model of existential noise, others indulge in tribal influences like fellow Swedes Goat. And then there is a pop track in there: ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’ skips along as danceable technofied pleasure pop. Following straight after, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocals emote into an almost emo-goth darkness in the vaguely threatening ‘Wrap Your Arms’. Following this, anything song-shaped is scrapped for an interlude of concept album sounds.
With two tracks named after post-apocalyptic characters in feminist speculative fiction-er Margaret Atwood’s ‘Oryx and Crake’, and a 19 minute edit of noises manufactured in a boiler room (‘Old Dreams Waiting to be Realised’), The Knife try to explore questions about the processes of modern civilisation, but perhaps you’d have to read the liner notes to hear that in it. Expositional titles such as ‘Fracking Fluid Injection’ give some pointers about what The Knife are hoping to address on this record.
Shaking the Habitual can be a difficult record to listen to. It must have been a difficult record to create. It sounds like the sort of record a band will make if they are sincerely questioning ‘what if…?’. The Knife may not have found any concrete answers, but perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is to agitate, to shake the listener out of the habitual and into the potential. Perhaps the point is to fight passivity and to open eyes and ears.
Shaking the Habitual can be pre-ordered and streamed on The Knife’s website.