Review: The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
Published on April 11th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Over the course of their three previous albums, Stockholm duo The Knife have built up a considerable following for making music that’s thrilling in how brazenly it flaunts pretty much every rule going. The long-awaited and long-running Shaking the Habitual continues their knack for combining sounds in a manner that almost defies comparison with anyone else past or present, but there are points where it feels like the listener is no longer in on the joke.
For the most part, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer sound as bewitching and bewildering as ever; the former’s strangulated vocals help usher their strange world back in on “A Tooth for an Eye”, along with huffing panflute, melodically manipulated drumhits and a fat, popping rhythm section playing host to percussion straight out of the lava levels from Super Mario World on the SNES. Fluttering birds of synth take flight and all sorts of other elements pass through the mix as The Knife welcome us back in, take our coat and offer us an exceptionally weird beverage.
Dark, rumbling single “Full of Fire” kicks things up a notch with nine utterly bonkers minutes of ranting, pulsating mayhem, before “A Cherry on Top” just about stays onside with a further nine minutes of shapeshifting sound collage. It becomes a foreboding, plinky wilderness and eventually takes on a ridiculously melodramatic vocal, eliciting the peculiar notion from Rocksucker that it sounds like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd’s opera on lots and lots of mushrooms.
So little do The Knife sound like any other musical artists, you see, that even reference-happy old us can only muster Super Mario, Looney Tunes and psychedelic drugs for this one. Almost every element of The Knife’s sound has a distinctive texture and feel about it that makes it very hard to think of kindred spirits – well, except maybe Bjork – which they absolutely must be commended for.
“Without You My Life Would Be Boring” is certainly not dull, wielding as it does a weird high-pitched voice and more bonkers tribal percussion, like Bjork stuck in a video game race against time, while the stunning “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” sounds so foreboding as to be quite like an apparent monster on a misty horizon. We’re then led into another creepy wilderness, this time a nineteen-minute behemoth entitled “Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized”, where a fastly beaten drums are tampered with to sound like a bug flapping its wings petulantly.
Though it has a bubbling, buzzing, creeping energy about it, “Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized” treads thin ice: as a prominent feature on a gargantuan sonic landscape, it must be respected, but it almost feels more at the listener’s expense than for their delectation. We can either nod, stroke our chins and say, “Hmmm, how challenging,” or scream into a pillow and hit ‘skip’. Either way, it’s nice to have the choice, but the BS detector does begin to flicker somewhat at this stage of the album. Maybe that’s the point, who knows?
It’s nigh on impossible to tell what some of the sounds are on “Raging Lung”, delightfully so; amongst other things, there’s something that may or may not be a trumpet, and yet it all comes together mesmerisingly rather than just being a parade of bizarre noises. “Networking” is supremely jittery and unhappy sounding, shooting whirring, grinding and wailing noises through its mix, before “Stay Out Here” sees Andersson and Dreijer lose their minds near totally while seething the call and response refrain of “One foot yours, one mine”.
It’s then time for another disturbed sound collage, the ten-minute “Fracking Fluid Injection”, and this time it really does feel as if we’re just having the piss taken out of us. We’re all for difficult, challenging music, but it just doesn’t feel necessary for The Knife to err this close to the unlistenable when their listenable stuff is unique as it is. Frankly, “Fracking Fluid Injection” sounds like a succession of seals being beheaded, bleeding slight resentment over into the far more manageable “Ready to Lose”, which brings Shaking the Habitual to a close.
Never mind what we have to say about it, though: here’s what they have to say about it…
As far as Rocksucker’s concerned, frequent brilliance tarnished by overindulgence = three and a half birds. Absolutely worth checking out on account of said brilliance, but frustrating all the same.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
Shaking the Habitual is out now on Brille. For more information, please click here to visit The Knife’s official website.