The Knife’s “Shaking the Habitual”

Swedish electro synth-pop duo The Knife are very, very, very odd. Their eccentric, bird-masked outfits, mesmerizing yet pelicular music, and passionate social commentary has surprisingly gotten them praise from critics. Ever since the release of their 2003 sophomore record Deep Cuts and its funky viral hit, “Heartbeats,” The Knife has gotten recognition in both America and their homeland, Stockholm. Three years later, the brother-sister duo garnered even more praise with the audacious Silent Shout. Even with all their touring and growing awareness, The Knife went into hiatus for seven years. Now, with their fourth record Shaking the Habitual out, the Swedish band is back on track with touring and critical success.

Shaking the Habitual is The Knife’s longest, strangest, and most perplexing record and sometimes it feels somewhat overemphatic. ButThe Knife successfully combines dark, ambient synth-pop with experimental techno. In addition, Shaking the Habitual also incorporates a psychedelic atmosphere, as the songs range from 30-second interludes to 19-minute anthems. The Knife’s new record is also their most political, as some songs encompass Swedish politics with razor-edged passion and delirium. Take the drum-clattering, calypso opener, “A Tooth for an Eye,” where lead vocalist Karin Andersson sings, with a woozy voice, “Border lies the idea of what’s mine a strange desire/Drawing lines with a ruler/Bring the fuel to the fire.” Paired with a cheerful yet disorienting beat, “A Tooth for an Eye” is an enchanting hymn about power struggle and chaotic disfunction. Afterwards, the album turns the tides, with the 9-minute jam “Full of Fire,” which feels like something of a troubling nightmare. It’s filled with hoarse voice-samples, wooshing noises, and endlessly pounding electro-snare drums. If you’re not looking forward to a freaky, acid trip with your buddies, maybe skip “Full of Fire” when listening to Shaking the Habitual. The rest of the unconventional album contains dream-pop mixed with African-styled trances (“Without You My Life Would Be Boring”), alt-rock jams (“Wrap Your Arms Around Me”), epic soft songs (“A Cherry on Top,” “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized”), and croaky electro-pop tunes (“Networking”). 

Sometimes, it’s hard to listen to Shaking the Habitual, given the 94-minute length, the consistent oddness of its elaborate sound, and The Knife’s vibrant eccentricity. But I highly suggest to listen to other previous Knife albums, such as their 2003 breakthrough Deep Cuts or 2006’s lauded Silent Shout. Even for me, as a listener of eclectic and diverse music, listening to Shaking the Habitual is uneasy. But it’s good to see The Knife in action again, even if it means confusing fans, delighting fans, or driving away fans.

Grade: B
Recommended: No
Suggested Tracks: “ATooth for an Eye,” “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” “Networking”                     


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