Shaking the Habitual
Perhaps the most shocking element of Shaking the Habitual is the heavy, minimalistic drone compositions that comprise a full third of the album. The haunting “A Cherry on Top” is the most tuneful of the bunch. Its melody is similar in sentiment to their 2003 single “Heartbeats” and even Animal Collective's ambient “Bees,” albeit it tossed through an urban dystopia several times. Grittier yet is the twenty-minute “Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized,” which closes off the first disc. It's dense material one might expect of contemporary avant-garde musicians such as Kevin Drumm, Machinefabreik, or Yellow Swans. Seven years ago, The Knife were traveling steadily toward the ultimate kinetic precision of minimal techno. 2013 sees them exploring the other extreme.
Of course, dancefloor material dominates, and it is equally intimidating. “Networking” is a sublime microhouse track made threatening in its use of chopped, sputtering vocal samples. A strong handful of songs, notably “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” and “Raging Lung” sound more like The Knife of old, with their calypso-themed drum machines punching out threatening polyrhythms. Percussively, much of it would fit into a Ricardo Villalobos or Shackleton set. In this context, the tracks serve as funky corridors within this multifaceted hall-of-mirrors album.
“You have the most beautiful way of putting one foot in front of the other,” Karin sings to a pitch-shifted version of herself on “Stay Out Here,” a highlight which takes up the entirety of side E. And when the song builds to a frantic chant, she may as well be singing to herself. The enigmatic electropop duo have waited seven years to follow-up their landmark Silent Shout. During that time, their influence has been seen in artists such as The Weeknd, Burial, Grimes, Crystal Castles, and the entire witch house scene. Shaking the Habitual does just what its title says: it shakes the listener from their sleep and pulls the rug out from beneath their expectations.
Shaking the Habitual is bound to be divisive. One website published a glowing review paired with a zero-out-of-five score. Harsh and aggressive, its beauty will be off-putting to many. But I have a feeling that The Knife seek passionate reactions over passive enjoyment, and to this end they have succeeded with grimy colors.
Reviewed by Dylan Hester, Radio K volunteer / Channel K co-host.