Like any good musical group, The Knife has their fair share of supporters and detractors. The mystique that blankets their physical appearance and drives most of their songs is endearing to some and just plain weird to others. However, there is no denying that the brother and sister duo behind The Knife are unique enough to occupy their own little corner of the electronic genre. The brooding, cold blooded vocals of Karin Drejier Andersson (also of Fever Ray) are so distinctive that her songs have found a larger audience; If I Had a Heart frequently crops up in television shows and commercials to illustrate their bleak nature.
Regardless of how many albums The Knife chooses to make, they can’t run away from Silent Shout, a career-defining album that is still steeped in praise. I certainly haven’t heard anything else like it. The soundscapes were amazing, and Andersson’s vocals complimented them perfectly. With an album like that hanging over their heads, I think Silent Shout kind of painted The Knife into a corner. Between the release of that album and the one they have just unveiled, I wondered how they were going to respond to Silent Shout’s success and counter the high expectations that followed. During any prolonged hiatus, a new album either goes against the grain or sticks with the winning formula. Shaking the Habitual, a double album, takes the former approach. Is that a good thing? In my opinion…absolutely not.
On the surface, Shaking the Habitual is tenacious and vaguely self-aware like it’s siblings. The ghastly album cover, which hurts my eyes every time I look at it, is actually true to the music that it represents. Before you listen to the album, you’ll ask yourself whether it is going to be repulsive or beautifully misunderstood. Granted, some people are going to love this album; critics are already putting it on a pedestal and gushing about how raw and hypnotic it is. Even though I cast aside the notion that this was going to be Silent Shout Pt. 2, I still couldn’t believe how devoid of atmosphere this album was.
Most of the songs, which clock in at well-over 10 minutes (one track in particular runs about 19 minutes), are comprised of plodding beats that go on and on and on. Furthermore, Andersson’s vocals add to the frustration simply because there is nothing of much substance to carry. It’s as if someone flipped on a sequencer and Andersson spoke lyrics over whatever beat was playing at the time. It’s a morose album, but incredibly shapeless. The biggest tragedy, though, is that this is a double album. Double albums come along once in a while, and for the most part they are more interesting to listen to than most single LPs because there’s an abundance of ideas that can thrive within the extended runtime. It’s the musical equivalent of painting a mural as opposed to a portrait, and in my opinion The Knife has squandered that opportunity.
I expect people to disagree with my assessment of Shaking the Habitual, and that will be a testament to how polarizing it is. In spite of that, The Knife still deserves credit for living up to the album’s namesake. Hopefully their tendency to explore different territories will yield a much different, more exciting piece of work next time.
Feel free to check it out on Amazon.com