The Knife, Shaking the Habitual

Kevin O'Donnell

By Kevin O'Donnell

on 04.09.13 in Reviews

Shaking the Habitual

The Knife

“I’m telling you stories,” Karin Dreijer Andersson shrieks on the opening track “A Tooth For an Eye,” before letting rip with “Trust meeeeeeeeeeee-aaaaaaahhhhhh!” And what stories those are: On their long-awaited follow-up to their 2006 U.S. breakthrough Silent Shout, this Swedish brother-sister duo have crafted the musical equivalent of a Wes Craven horror movie for PhDs. Politics, feminism, gender studies, social class, “commercial homogenization,” as they state in their biography — all those weighty ideas are explored on 13 tracks.

An exhilarating, what-the-heck-is-going-on-here listen

Whether any of this makes sense in the hands of a press-shy, costume-wearing duo is another question. Andersson has long reveled in screwing around with audiences: She famously accepted a televised award in 2010 for her side project Fever Ray while wearing a mask that looked like molten flesh. And on Shaking the Habitual, she remains equally opaque: Plainspoken, politically-charged lyrics (“Not a vagina/ It’s an option!”) get masked with all sorts of vocal effects, shrieks, yelps, groans and grunts. Then there are downright silly sentiments: “A handful of elf pee/ That’s my soul.” Huh? Sure, Andersson and her brother Olof Dreijer have said in interviews that they want to challenge the listener’s understanding of race, class, sexuality, etc., on this album. But over a double-disc set, it’s hard not to think this is a giant practical joke — a musical version of a 4chan troll.

What is clear, however, is the Knife’s gift for crafting some of the most forward-thinking electronic music around — Shaking the Habitual is an exhilarating, what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here listen. It’s definitely their freakiest set yet — maybe the freakiest record this year. Cuts like “Full of Fire” and “Raging Lung” are packed with synth earworms and djembe drums and storm-the-floor electronic beats and flutes and recorders and art-damaged acoustic guitars and feedback drones. And is that the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz shrieking on “Without You My Life Would Be Boring”? That reference would sense — L. Frank Baum’s fictional character is all about illusion — and Anderson clearly revels in playing with the role of a modern-day sonic wizard. In a time when pop stars and television personalities offer up every mundane detail of their personal lives for the sake of a retweet, sometimes it’s nice to have an artist who remains shrouded in nothing but mystery.