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Courtesy of Rabid Records
Album cover art of The Knife’s new album Shaking the Habitual.
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★★★✩✩

Shaking the Habitual

The Knife

Released April 9, 2013

Rabid Records

Judging by the album cover, you might be thinking that another Britney Spears-inspired diva has emerged to conquer the world’s pop scene, but if you are a fan of the Swedish brother-sister duo The Knife, you know that this is far from the truth. The mellow-looking cover art is just a deceiving layer of their new album, Shaking the Habitual, which is everything but mellow.

For those who are unacquainted with the duo, The Knife is a Swedish electronic music collaboration that consists of siblings Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer-Andersson. Known for their mysterious and eccentric appearances in the media, the siblings primarily create electro-dance and dark synth-pop music. In the last few years, they have worked on a variety of projects, including one-time solo careers (such as Dreijer-Andersson’s phenomenal musical project Fever Ray) and collaboration projects with other artists (such as the Darwinism-based electro-opera Tomorrow, In a Year).

Shaking the Habitual is their first album after a long-lasting hiatus that started with the release of their third album, Silent Shout, in 2006. While there is still a specific flavor of their music on this album, it is evident that this hiatus amended their style, because Shaking the Habitual scarcely resembles any of their previous work.

If I had to describe the album in one word, it would be “challenging.” With the exception of the opening track “A Tooth For An Eye,” absolutely nothing on this album comes easily. From the 9-minute abstract political manifesto “Full of Fire” to the very end of the album, the songs dissipate heavy and obtrusive sounds that invoke the most unpleasant thoughts in your mind. There are moments in certain songs, like “A Cherry On Top” and “Raging Lung,” when a glimpse of Dreijer-Andersson’s vulnerable voice peeks in, but the transparent emotionality is immediately erased by the never-ending, lingering sounds of unsettledness. The mysterious pop beats from their previous albums only whisper signs of existence in songs such as “Networking” and “Without You My Life Would Be Boring,” which gives hope that their original style might still lurk beneath the surface.

Lyrically, the album is both confusing and mind-boggling. When Dreijer-Andersson creaks “Of all the guys and the signori / who will write my story / get the picture, they get glory / who looks after my story?” in “Full of Fire,” followed by “Strawberry, melon, a cherry on top” in “A Cherry On Top,” you have to wonder whether you just witnessed the creation of an intellectual movement or complete nonsense.

In the online promotion of their album, the duo said: “Music can be so meaningless. We had to find lust.” It would seem that the siblings are challenging their listeners and the entire music industry with this album, but I don’t see how music is meant to shape today’s art if we can’t comprehend it — although I will be honest and admit that I might just be a clueless fan, miles away from realizing what is really going on in their new album. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to say this album is mediocre just because I don’t fully understand it. There is certainly a degree of mastery present in Shaking the Habitual, because it somehow manages to captivate your attention just as much as it forces you to escape its agonizing sounds. Despite the few boring tracks, the album will spike your interest even if you try to stay disengaged.

Shaking the Habitual is sort of like the shape-shifting boggart from Harry Potter — if you approach it with ease and sense of humor, it sounds like a ridiculous extravaganza, but if you face it with apprehension and fear, it transforms into a joy-sucking and loveless sonic hollow that bounces between infinite stillness and nerve-wracking tension.

Highlight tracks: “A Tooth For An Eye,” “Full of Fire,” “A Cherry On Top,” “Raging Lung,” and “Without You My Life Would Be Boring.”