The Knife is that band you know even if you don't. Mainly thanks to 2003's "Heartbeats" off of the Deep Cuts album, The Knife gained a jumping off point for going mainstream but instead chose to follow up with a much darker synthpop album entitled Silent Shout, accompanied by the video concert Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience. Their last release before Shaking The Habitual, Tomorrow, In A Year, was a grandiose collaboration with Mt. Sims based on an opera that focuses on Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Formed in 1999, The Knife consists of brother-sister duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, and, like so many sibling dynamics in the music world, theirs is one that seems to ebb and flow. With Shaking the Habitual, The Knife has done exactly as the title suggests, shocking us often and daring us to keep listening.
"A Tooth For an Eye" is an immediate assault on the ears--but in a good way. It's tribal, visceral beat sets the tone for the entire record, with long, sweeping symphonies that sometimes top out at nineteen minutes ("Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized)." The more quintessential sound of The Knife emerges on "Full of Fire." With a more industrial techno sound (think the Run Lola Run soundtrack), Dreijer Andersson rasps, "Sometimes I get problems that are hard to solve/Here's my story/What's your opinion?" It gradually digresses into an increasingly experimental roar until transitioning into "A Cherry On Top," which opens with a subtle, muted instrumental sound until crescendoing to a more palpable background. Like so many songs on Shaking the Habitual, "Cherry on Top" feels like several songs in one with Dreijer Andersson only occasionally singing.
"Without You My Life Would Be Boring" is a frenetic track that mirrors the sentiment of its title. As one of the more normal song lengths on the album (five minutes), there is something vaguely radio-friendly about this track--and it's not just because it sounds somewhat similar in name to Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You." Following is "Wrap Your Arms Around Me," which possesses a musical tone doesn't exactly invite one to do so. With moody, almost unintelligible utterances, Dreijer Andersson assures, "In a crowd, I'll find you." It is one of the more haunting (read: creepy) offerings on Shaking the Habitual, though, admittedly, there is something arresting about it.
"Crake," the shortest song on the album apart from "Oryx," is barrage of horns and groans that leads into the epically long "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized." Filled with nothing but ambient sounds, this is a song that makes "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" seem interesting. Of course, you would have to be quite a fan to make it all the way to the end of the track. "Raging Lung" takes it back a step with an eleven minute length that is far more vibrant and animated--by far one of the more listenable tracks on Shaking the Habitual.
"Networking" (the most odious word in the English language) is a frenzied, distraught instrumental track that closely mirrors what it feels like to network a.k.a. prostrate yourself before someone whose ego needs to be flattered. The track is also notable for its The Prodigyesque quality. "Oryx" continues the theme of aggravating instrumentals designed to assault your auditory senses, segueing into "Stay Out Here" featuring Shannon Funchess and Emily Roysdon. Repeating the phrase "You swallowed me" against an irritated musical background, "Stay Out Here" is a song that Andy Warhol might have chosen for one of his experimental films. "Fracking Fluid Injection" transforms the vibe of the album yet again, perhaps imitating the sound of fracking from a rock's perspective. Regardless of what it's supposed to sound like, all one would need to do to stop fracking is subject frackers to listening to this song while doing it. The final track, "Ready to Lose," is something of a dare to listeners who would deign not to understand the complexities of this album. Furibund beneath the service, "Ready to Lose" is among the elite league of linear songs on Shaking the Habitual.
Although it is often painful to listen to, writing Shaking the Habitual off altogether would be something of a mistake as there is almost a catharsis to be had in listening to the album in its entirety. Very much a product of that strange time it was created in--the twenty-first century--the disjointedness and lack of any true cohesion is a reflection of the world's current state.