The Knife – Shaking The Habitual

“It’s The Knife Jim, but not as we know it”, perhaps Spock would have said to Kirk if they had been the first to discover their new album Shaking The Habitual. The album title, in itself, is a big hint to expect the unexpected.

The first change you’ll notice is that they have shed the masks that have become a big part of their image. “We felt too safe behind the masks”, Karin Dreijer said in a recent interview posted by the band. “The mask had become an image of The Knife. Something that was meant to question identity and fame became a commercial product… an institution.”

It’s the first album in seven years for the Swedish brother and sister team of Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson. Silent Shout was released to almost universal acclaim in 2006. However, the duo has certainly not been dragging their heels in that time. Karin released the critically and somewhat commercially successful Fever Ray project in 2009, while Olof has been producing some exquisite electronica under his Oni Ayhun guise.

Shaking The Habitual merges the electronic with the organic to create an equally beautiful, yet all-together alien sound. Attempting to describe or break down the individual sounds used on this album is an almost impossible task, with Karin Dreijer herself saying:”We made up our own sound sources. We used made up, home made instruments… or we played traditional instruments in non-traditional ways… and tried to find non-traditional ways of creating traditional sounds.

The first thing you notice about the opening track and lead single, A Tooth For An Eye, is that it does indeed sound quite organic, conjuring up an almost tropical vibe with it’s calypso drums and percussion. These sounds meld harmoniously with the more electronic elements to create a beautifully warm track.

Second single Full of Fire immediantly follows. As the title would suggest is, in comparison, a complete assault on the senses. Hard-hitting, industrial beats thump and pulse, while harsh snyths underpin the rhythms in an off-kilter fashion. Combine these elements with Karin’s unhinged avocal delivery, and the feeling generated is one of paranoia. Lyrically the song deals with, amongst other things, conservative Swedish politics and gender roles (a reoccurring theme for The Knife).

On the album’s overtly political tone, Olof Dreijer said, “The lyrics are inspired by 1970s protest songs form our childhood. Or maybe our record poses the question, what can a protest song be today?” The quirky and bouncey WIthout You My Life Would Be Boring is my personal highlight of the album. The strings and flutes give it a distinctly oriental feel. This could possibly be a contender for a single release.

The album’s centrepiece is the 19 minute epic (in the true sense of the word) Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised. If you dare strap yourself in for the entire track, it proves to be a rather unsettling listen. It’s the feeling of being in a vast room, in complete darkness and strapped to a chair, whilst all around you alien noises chatter, echo, and drone, eventually building to a climax.

Networking is almost seven minutes of skitterish, minimal tech. One can definitely see the influence of Olof’s work as Oni Ayhun filtering though, as it does on most of the uptempo numbers on the album. The sounds are impossible to define. Some of the noises are possibly human, but distorted to the point of incomprehension. At about the two minute mark it sounds like The Knife have unleashed a plague of locusts upon the world.

While The Knife may have changed in many ways: playing with song structures, track length, incorporating organic sounds, and the more overtly politically charged lyricism, the music produced can still only belong to the Knife. Think of it as an evolution. If Deep Cuts was the album all about getting you to move, and Silent shout was a dark, twisted take on electronic pop music, Shaking The Habitual represents a complete step away from the dance floor for The Knife.

Shaking the Habitual is a dense, challenging, and often unsettling listen. Covering such themes as gender identity, feminism, the environment, and class politics, it is certainly not an album possible to fully digest in one, or even several listens. Some have criticised the double album’s running time and overt experimentation. Perhaps a warning label should be slapped on the album cover: “Not for casual listening”.