04 Jun, 2013

The Knife – “Shaking the Habitual”

The Knife’s Olof Dreijer and Karen Dreijer Andersson are students of disorder. They always have been, ever since early 2000s albums Silent Shout and Deep Cuts.  Call them the Swedish answer to Daft Punk; the Knife have always done whatever they want, regardless of what others think, and without the help or interaction with the media.  After seven years of media and public evasion and a production hiatus since 2006’s Silent Shout the Knife are back with Shaking the Habitual.

Everything about Shaking the Habitual screams, ‘inaccessible.’ Tracks vary from forty-six seconds to twenty minutes.  The record spans a massive 98 minutes.  Tracks rarely, if ever, adhere to a central melodic idea.  The name of the game is synth-induced dissonance. Occasionally the album feels like it’s wandering, with a great deal of time wasted on shambling instrumentals.  At times, the ambient material becomes taxing.  I found myself wishing the Knife would take a cue from David Bowie and kept the weirdness and ‘high-concept’ for a separate LP or B-Side. That said, when the duo actually appears on tracks they are, to borrow a technical reviewing term, ‘Goddamn Amazing.’  The industrial, buzzing, aggressive and at times conceptually amorphous track is the record’s thesis: a contemplation on feminism and government.

This is the record’s intention: to wax poetically on government, environmental degradation, privilege and even our decreasing attention spans.  This review earlier complained about the massiveness of this record; is should be acknowledged that this is intentional. Andersson answered question to the record’s length in interviews that, ‘It’s fun to play with people’s times these days.’ The source material and aesthetic palette of the record is—in the spirit of this experimentation—diverse, borrowing heavily from Middle Eastern melodies and North African rhythmic sensibilities—an element to the record that has been lost on many reviewers. Tracks like “Without You My Life Would be Boring,” and “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” infuse visions of old Egyptian soul crooner and unacknowledged hip-hop sample library Abdel Halim.

The latter half of the record transforms and disassembles into frenetic electronic music with tracks like, “Networking,” and punk rock tributes with the Fugazi Repeater riff ripped, Raging Lungs.” The record loses its pace again in the latter half with the feel-good entitled, “Fracking Fluid Injection,” a track that ultimately boils down to a 10 minute recording of a squeaky door hinge. I found myself losing my patience with the silliness of this track, but I was still appreciative of the idea. This shift and experimentation in instrumentation parallels the experimentation with the identity of the band itself. Shaking the Habitual is unlike anything that band has produced before.

This record provides a glimpse into the dense, academic, intellectually driven foundations of a group that has eluded major awards and attention in favor of political activism and feigned inhumanity.  It is an audile tour of dissidence and walks a fine between thick, bookishness and emotional expression–A line that the Knife does not typically walk but one that they successfully traverse this record.

Review by B

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