The Knife’s fourth release, Shaking the Habitual, came to me in a plain manila envelope that seemingly contradicted the borderline-garish hot pink album cover it housed. Arriving a whopping seven years after its predecessor, 2006’s Silent Shout, the album marks the newest labor of love from the Swedish sibling powerhouse that is The Knife. To say I was eager to listen to it would be a gross understatement.
Musically unconventional, The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson (AKA Fever Ray) and Olof Dreijer (AKA DJ Coolof) are notorious for shunning the press. Although Shaking the Habitual was announced in 2011, very little was known of it until the music video/film for the album’s lead single, “Full Of Fire,” was released at the end of last January. A sprawling, close to 10-minute epic, “Full Of Fire” left fans of The Knife, myself included, both mystified and craving more.
No review of the album would be complete without a description of the physical packaging, which, in this era of iTunes, Spotify, and other less legal avenues, is well worth the higher price over its electronic counterpart. The aforementioned hot pink album sleeve houses two CDs and a sprawling comic-strip manifesto about extreme wealth and the ending thereof printed over two booklets (full comic available on The Knife’s website) with song lyrics on the reverse side.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who, upon first listen to the album, didn’t immediately think “What the fuck did I just listen to?” Indeed, Shaking the Habitual is The Knife’s most unconventional album to date, which is saying a lot. Still, the true hallmark of any album from The Knife is how well it ages, and although I haven’t yet had a considerable amount of time to allow this release to marinate, there’s no doubting that it is a decidedly strong release for the duo.
The album’s opening track is incidentally the album’s second single, “A Tooth For An Eye.” My first impression of the song was that it was jumbled and borderline cacophonous, but it has since grown to be my favorite track of the album. With its unorthodox song structure and instrumentals that gradually become more melodic as the song progresses, “A Tooth For An Eye” is a subtly beautiful track that rewards you with each listen.
The group’s choice of lead single, “Full Of Fire,” is an interesting one. It’s on the experimental side of The Knife’s already very experimental spectrum, lyrically provocative, and easily one of the group’s most menacing-sounding songs to date. At over nine minutes in length, it runs a bit on the long side, but it will undoubtedly do exceedingly well in a live setting when the duo embarks on one of their rare tours.
“Cherry On Top” is a haunting lullaby that contrasts nicely with the chaos that comes before it. The tracks that follow are solid up until the first disc’s concluding track, “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized,” which is a 19-minute opus comprised almost entirely of ambient noise. It would work well for the score of an ominous scene in a film but feels slightly awkward in both sound and scope alongside its peers.
The second disc’s opening track, “Raging Lung,” plunges me right back into the familiar tribal drumbeats that permeate many of the songs from the first disc. It’s both lovely and eerie, and its lyrics — much like the tracks that preceded it — are ominously poignant.
However, the rest of the second disc, with the exception of the gorgeously arranged final track, “Ready To Lose,” loses some steam. The instrumental interludes and loopy tonal accompaniments sadly become too outlandish for me to appreciate. My capacity for experimental art music falls short of Shaking the Habitual’s 96:20 run time.
Still, The Knife deserves some serious props for the cynical, sharp, biting, and intellectually provocative lyrics they’ve churned out for this release. They cover weighty topics including politics, sexuality, and conventional family institutions with frankness and depth. Additionally, I must commend the band for adhering to their publicized rejection of the modern music industry’s confines. This album is the stark opposite of commercial; it’s music for the sake of art and art alone.
I doubt I’ll be playing Shaking the Habitual with the same frequency as The Knife’s older releases (Deep Cuts and Silent Shout, I’m looking at you); however, I still found The Knife’s long-awaited release to be a gratifying listen.
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