“Not everything can be so easily explained.”
Despite the bird masks and near-oppressive attitude to interviews, it would be remiss to label The Knife as shy. They stalk shadows both sonic and physical yet approach their art with fearless defiance. They are clear in what they resent and careful in what they adore. Their recent press release-cum-manifesto (from which the above quote is taken) reveals a great deal about The Knife while simultaneously giving little away, a trick they have perfected over time. It’s all very ambiguous and often reads like House of Leaves by way of Hideo Kojima. Still, the siblings’ long-expressed distrust of modern culture is clear. You just have to look for it.
It’s a challenge, much like the record it seeks to promote. Seven years on from Silent Shout, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer have apparently decided to draw something of a line in the sand. Running slightly short of 100 minutes and fond of digression, Shaking The Habitual frequently feels like a calculated endurance test, not least when the sparse ‘Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized’ pops up midway through and spends all of its 19 and a half minutes slowly creeping about, creating almost unbearable tension with industrial textures and continual drone. It’s an unnerving space oddity; perfect for a sci-fi soundtrack but likely to be skipped over by those who prefer their Knife to be a little sharper.
Further brain-melting of a different kind follows. ‘Raging Lung’ also takes its time (everything on this record does) though its crawl is more immediately arresting. A tight blend of hypnotic rhythm and Andersson’s typically ethereal vocals, it’s yet another example of The Knife’s uncanny ability to head-fuck with kindness. Ditto ‘Networking’, six-plus minutes of drum machine mania that confounds the eardrums. Shaking The Habitual asks a lot of the listener, but the connections are many. The double-barrel intro of ‘A Tooth For An Eye’ and ‘Full of Fire’ boasts career-best work, the latter especially aggressive as it takes aim at the status quo. Still, the more opaque diversions wear thin and even the most ardent advocators of abstract will struggle to find kind words for the likes of ‘A Cherry On Top’ and ‘Fracking Fluid Injection’, two collections of strange noises with no clear purpose.
It’s a record of many statements, one worthy of its title. There’s arguably nothing on here to match the pop highlights of Deep Cuts and Silent Shout. Barring ‘A Tooth For An Eye’, you might not play any of it at a party. Does that matter? Should it? Shaking The Habitual questions what we demand from our artists. It is an experiment that prioritises art over entertainment, one that should be hugely admired if not necessarily worshiped outright. It’s a soapbox record. It’s a call to arms. It’s a haunted house. It’s a barely decipherable maze. It’s ambitious. It’s difficult. It’s brilliant. It’s exhausting. It’s all of this and a great deal more. Not everything can be so easily explained. Nor should it be.