Saturday, May 25, 2013

CD REVIEW ~ The Knife ~ Shaking The Habitual

The Knife have always flirted around the edges of darker skies, making less mainstream uncomfortable music as a result. Their first two albums are quirky and scatological, style and content leap off at divergent angles with each track. There was always a pop sensibility in the background restraining the distorted vocals, often growling and grating on the surface from ripping your face off. It was only with Silent Shout that this aural violence and unease was momentarily tamed, becoming honed to a perfection that its taken a few years for them to escape from. Even then Silent Shout's apparent popular vein defied conventions, as was evidenced by the videos that often accompanied the music. You'll never find The Knife in front of a camera miming to their music, its always some bizarre surrogate puppet. So really, after the extreme left field electronic sound scape performance art of Tomorrow. In a year, we really shouldn't expect an album called Shaking The Habitual to be the usual Knife we've all got used to.

The music created here is as defiantly radical, perhaps musically more cutting edge than politically astute. Sharp probing edges lurk unforeseen within each lyric and musical situation it occupies. Sometimes it veers off into sharp cuts of noise making only to come back into focus, but still with an unsettling predator just off speaker. Musically this album seems to be occupying similar territory to early Cabaret Voltaire, before they morphed into industrial techno/disco. This albums opening is the relatively jaunty tropicality of A Tooth For An Eye, which is followed by the sonic edginess of Full of Fire, whose true meaning remains quite opaque. Even the video confuses, with a woman pissing in the street, couples bondage to cars, cross dressing lesbian pensioners and occupy protests splatter across its glorious nine minutes plus. It maybe trying to say something about people defying social conventions, but its too off-kilter to maintain clarity about its true objective. The Knife seem to make a habit, ironically, of defying their own conventions. They try to challenge the status quo on not just one, but all levels simultaneously, which is ambitious. Much of what we hear is the result of years of improvised studio experiments, which perpetually hover on a precipice between indulgent meaningless twiddling and ground breaking invigoration. Mostly, they succeed,.but don't always seduce you into believing what they've achieved is truly great music making.

Sometimes the album does steer to the deep but hits the pretentious button. They do take themselves and the purpose of their music with an often arid po-faced seriousness that seems to photo- fit the archetypal Scandinavian. But, hey, let me not complain when you have the magnificent drama of tracks like Without You My Life Would Be Boring or Wrap Your Arms Around Me  or Stay Out  Here, to deal with.


With the recent Scott Walker album Bish Bosh, and now Shaking the Habitual, 2013 has two artists who are still prepared to push the envelope until it almost bursts. In this age of X Factorised musack, we should really be very grateful that bands like The Knife can not only still exist, but can thrive.

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