I have been listening to the Knife’s new album, Shaking the Habitual, for the past two weeks, non-stop. I’ve been trying to put down my thoughts on the album into some coherent whatever or another, and I think I’m just gonna skip it. I love it. I love it so, so much. I feel like it is largely what I’ve been expecting — there’s been a lot of talk about what a radical departure this album is, but I think if you’re doing a careful reading, there’s a lot of shared DNA from earlier works. If you follow the breadcrumbs of “The Captain” from Silent Shout, to the rework of “Pass it On” on their live album, to “Coconut” on Fever Ray, to the whole of Tomorrow, In a Year you get a pretty clear road map in terms of form and content. My favorite tracks are “Raging Lung,” “Tooth for an Eye,” and “Ready to Lose,” probably in that order.
I think there have been some insightful passages in some of the reviews floating around, and I’ll post a little from those here:
From Lindsay Zoldaz’s review on Pitchfork:
…In the end, though, Shaking’s unruly structure— a perfect union of form and content— feels like a noble choice. In interviews, they’ve spoken about “the importance of making your privileges transparent in order to say something political.” And the great privilege of being the Knife in 2013 is having a platform— they’ve earned a devoted audience ready to approach their wildest, most challenging and passionate vision with eager ears and an open mind.
Shaking the Habitual is, inarguably, an achievement. It is the Knife’s most political, ambitious, accomplished album, but in a strange way it also feels like its most personal: It provides a glimpse into the desires, intellectual enthusiasms and (unsurprisingly dense) reading list guiding one of music’s most shadowy duos. At its most mesmerizing, its conceptual rigor and occasional inscrutability are overpowered by a disarming earnestness: It is a musical manifesto advocating for a better, fairer, weirder world. Shaking the Habitual feels not post-human but profoundly humanist, fueled by an unfashionable but profoundly refreshing faith in music’s ability to hypnotize, to agitate, and to liberate— to become, in Winterson’s words, “the high note that smashes the glass and spills the liquid.”
And from Owen Myers’ piece in Dazed Digital:
But not everyone’s idea of social critique would include a lyric like “I got the urge for penetration”, which Andersson moans on the strikingly direct ballad “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”, in a radicalisation of lust that is quite distinct from the numbing commodification of sex in the media. “One reason (for the directness) is because we have been going deeper into feminist and queer theory and post-colonial studies,” explains Dreijer. He cherishes the work of Judith Butler, the poststructuralist American thinker who argued in Gender Trouble (1990) that gender is a culturally determined “performance” rather than being determined by the pink matter between your thighs … Though their anger is palpable throughout Shaking the Habitual’s 98 minutes, its aim is not to bulldoze, but gesture towards new possibilities for life and lust. In this regard, Andersson was inspired by the narrative of self-invention common to much feminist literature. “I borrowed a line from The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, who is one of my favourite writers: ‘I’m telling you stories / Trust me’.” The line, a recurring motif in Winterson’s 1987 novel, is equally totemic in ‘A Tooth for an Eye’, the pulsating cacophony that opens Shaking the Habitual. Andersson screams the line as if her head were on the chopping block, with the final syllable elongated into a shattering wail. It is a cry for life.
Some notes, and then I’ll drop it: I agree that Shaking does feel like their most personal album to date, for all its politics, with some incredibly visceral, emotional moments popping up in unlikely places. “Raging Lung” has a palpable sensuality that underwrites the whole album, and after a few listens, the line in “Tooth for an Eye,” Rewrite history to suit our needs — Open my country: a tooth for an eye! begins to feel like a sob.
I think that while there’s been a lot said for the duo’s use of masks earlier on in their career, an interesting side effect is that there is almost no performance in Karin’s persona. We can’t picture her singing her songs — she’s gone to great lengths to prevent it — and the vocal distortions add another layer of separation, so the songs almost exist apart. They feel like artifacts, able to be held, walked around, and considered from multiple angles… which is maybe perfect the vehicle for the ideas on Shaking.