"I'm telling you stories. Trust me"
There is nothing about the latest album by Swedish techno-pop icons the Knife that doesn't whiff of pretension, or scream for attention so loudly that you'll either be immediately turned against it or will highly admire its audacity. Shaking The Habitual follows on from Tomorrow In A Year, a collaborative album with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock from a few years ago that left listeners thoroughly divided, to the extent that the majority of Knife fans refuse to acknowledge it as a "real" Knife album. Perhaps rightly so, but siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer most likely hold their Darwinian opera in higher esteem, as it appears to have cast a long shadow over their already ambitious creative output. They are also masters of knowing their audience and how to manipulate their perceptions, as the masterful PR campaign leading up to Shaking The Habitual has demonstrated. The gap between 2006's Silent Shout, or their ubiquitously loved 2004 single "Heartbeats" is so large at this stage this isn't by any means unexpected. Before we go any further, why not think about what you would have wanted from a 2013 Knife record, and then consider the group's own interpretation of their art:
(If needs must there is a single CD version of Shaking The Habitual available that omits "Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised, but I doubt the packaging is as good. Believe me when I say the double CD gatefold is lush.)
But it's not all fun and games. Overriding all of the Knife's pop desires is their sense of political message, or rather various messages, as Shaking The Habitual is something of a grab-bag when it comes to these identities too. Think of it as a manifesto, one that eschews all of Karin and Olof's interpretations of gender, class and environmental politics on both a Scandinavian and a global level into one pink bubblegum bubble. Karin's lyrics are of course an obvious place to look. From the Salt-N-Pepa loan that gargles out the end of "Full Of Fire" to the "urge for penetration" that colours "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" she's definitely reaching for the admirable task of rebuilding perceptions of gender from the ground upwards. "Fracking Fluid Injection", a ten minute barren wind chamber of an instrumental towards the album's end is a clear inquisition of a different kind of penetration (though maybe not completely different): drilling for the release of natural gas from under the earth's surface. Further attention to political concerns envelop the album's visuals: the choice of Marit Östberg as the director for the "Full Of Fire" video was a bold message in itself, but the images of housekeeping protest and outdoor BDSM even more so.
If Shaking The Habitual can be said to be successful of anything it would be that it fully rewards listeners for the attention it lavishly invites. It completely embraces the spirit of unconventionality, from its eye-straining artwork to its demanding length. By doing so it becomes a rare thing in today's music culture: completely unique and unforgettable. The Knife called their first tour "An Audiovisual Experience", and the same name could apply easily to this set. It is more experience than album, and one of a growing number of releases that chooses to innovate with structure significantly more than has been done since the popularisation of the CD in the eighties. As an album of songs, Shaking The Habitual is undoubtedly going to disappoint some, but as an experience of time, craft and endurance, it's fast on its way to being a classic.