The Knife: Shaking the Habitual CD Review

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With Shaking the Habitual, The Knife have created some of the most sinuous noise I have ever heard. The songs are long, of 13 on this double-disc set, only four clock in under the six-minute mark. The longest, "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized" is 19:02, which puts them right up there with Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans. The Knife's agenda is a far cry from Yes' oceanic musings however. The Swedish brother and sister duo of Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson have titled their album Shaking the Habitual as a reference to a quote from Michael Foucalt: "The work of an intellectual...[is] to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking."

I have always felt that music and politics never belonged together. I realize that this goes against the countercultural ethos, but when a musician spouts whatever received wisdom they have acquired, the results are almost invariably embarrassing. But God love 'em, they never learn. Thankfully The Knife have managed to sidestep this trap with Shaking the Habitual. They have managed to do this by couching their sentiments in some highly  intriguing sounds.

The album was released in early April, which under normal conditions would make this review very late. To use a music-biz cliché though, the record "has legs." There is a lot going on here, and it is one of very few that has kept me coming back for repeated listenings recently. Most of the reviews I have read have focused on the lyrics, but for me, it is the music. Fans of such audio adventurers as Einstürzende Neubauten, Laibach, and Throbbing Gristle might be interested, as The Knife are definitely fellow travelers.

In listening to the set, I was struck by certain incongruous moments. For example, there is some fantastic old-school scratching done on "Full of Fire," which was released as the preview single back in January. Then there is the "lead flute" section during "Without You My Life Would Be Boring," a song in which Karin sounds a lot like Kate Bush once did, many years ago. "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" was another one that caught my attention, with one of the biggest drum sounds this side of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks."

In an interview, Karin mentioned that the experience of working on an opera based on Darwin's "Origin of Species," combined with some atypical jamming sessions were huge factors in the creation of the album. "The songs were so much longer when we did them," she states, "Some were going on for, like, an hour or more." Maybe I'm a sucker for punishment, but I would love to hear some of those unedited session.

Hour-long songs or not though, Shaking the Habitual is a mighty impressive batch of music. Just for the record, I agree with most of what they are saying in the lyrics. A lot of it is more owning up to your actions rather than outright politics. But then, the personal is political, as they say, so what do I know.

The biggest attraction for me is the music though. I am always impressed when a group find a way to make "noise" that is actually very inviting. It is pretty rare, but The Knife have done it here.