The Knife: Shaking the Habitual

source: Rabid Records

Their first follow-up album in 7 years, siblings Olof and Karin Dreijer’s legacy reverberated in the years they spent working on their own respective projects. It had seemed like every other artsy-fartsy electronic project with drone and noise elements (and a laptop) would claim to be informed by The Knife, but none actually have the intellectual acumen to come up with anything remotely close to what the band has achieved. You’d only need to look at the promo material that preceded latest album Shaking the Habitual (named after a quote from Michel Foucault); the vague, seemingly sinister teaser image of the duo on a swing set, the manifesto that condones permutations, and let’s not forget the 13-minute long video that accompanied the album’s release.

For all its critical acclaim and artistic peaks, Silent Shout was relatively accessible by The Knife’s standards (much less than Karin’s project Fever Ray though). Here, in the press text for the Shaking the Habitual, The Knife asked the question “How do you build an album about not knowing?” Stripping themselves of their established sound, the duo started from scratch – finding, or building their own, instruments, recording in spaces with interesting architectural acoustics, and rekindling their aural curiosity. The epically-length tracks on this album are more about deconstruction of The Knife rather than artistic pretension.

The 9-minute long lead single, ‘Full of Fire’, is full on techno nightmare that sounds like eldritch trap 3 minutes into the song (like Tim & Eric’s parody of the genre, had it went full Lynchian). And from then on it just descended (or maybe ascended?) into further frightening territories; a caustic din of noise and maniacal distorted vocals that ends abruptly. Then there’s the drone worship of ‘Old Dreams Waiting to be Realised’, the bookend to the first disc of this 2xCD album. Setting a PA system in an antiquated boiler room, the band let sound develop itself with some interference by them. The end result is a dour transmutating track that lasts 19 minutes – seemingly their manifesto taken to a literal aural incarnation. Just what the f*ck is it? Reminiscent of the very frosty Ø, the track is equally as lifeless, which isn’t a criticism – we are fixated by flora and fauna as we are of abandoned human constructions (urban spelunking). And to quote the band themselves; “Electronic is just one place in the body.”

By the time the second disc begins, you get the feeling that The Knife purposely made ‘inaccessible’ Shaking the Habitual’s raison d’être. Knowing the context behind why they might have recorded the album to be as outré as possible gives us some insight into the potential reason behind this. The duo has criticised commercial homogenisation while doing press before the album’s release, and it seems like there has been a homogenisation of the weird in the pop as well. Everyone wants to be Lady Gaga, but Lady Gaga (and her followers) are weird for weird’s sake – there’s a difference between her meat dress and Karin’s melted face. The Knife brilliant subverts this by making their strangest record yet revealing themselves without the artistic, pretentious façade of their former self; costumed and anonymous. The Lynchian photo of the 2 on a swing set, smiling, is more unnerving than the creepiest of Fever Ray’s costumes.

If we were to extrapolate anything from the album, it’s that it is possible to craft something so long (96 minutes), ambitious, and seemingly inaccessible yet still personable. With their faces revealed, Olof and Karin let their feelings loose, the post-human sounds of Shaking the Habitual manage to be the band’s most political and personal. Feminism, queer theory, structuralism, environmentalism, borrowed and appropriated literary ideas, royal and nucleus families, and dystopic fears all seem impersonable, daunting and unknowable subjects, but to quote Karin on opener ‘A Tooth for an Eye’; “I’m telling you stories, trust me.”

LISTEN TO: ‘Full Of Fire’


1. A Tooth for an Eye
2. Full of Fire
3. A Cherry on Top
4. Without You My Life Would be Boring
5. Wrap Your Arms Around Me
6. Crake
7. Old Dreams Waiting to be Realised

1. Raging Lung
2. Networking
3. Onyx
4. Stay Out Here
5. Fracking Fluid Injection
6. Ready to Lose