I was never much of a fan of electronic music. In fact, my taste in music has always been in the rock/pop/indie/jazz categories. I’ve never really listened to much hip-hop, although I’ve liked some albums over the years. Country, americana, bluegrass, hurdy gurdy, and the like have never really done much for me. Rhythm and blues, soul, funk – I’ve dabbled. But for the most part my love of music has always been mostly owned by rock n’ roll.
As far as electronic music goes, I began dabbling in the late 90s with The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method and Prodigy, and I really liked that Fatboy Slim video with Christopher Walken floating around a room. This year however I’ve found three albums that could be categorized as electronic that I’ve absolutely loved: Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest; Baths’ Obsidian; and The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual. Boards of Canada in fact is numero uno on my favorite list (we’ll get into that on Monday). The Knife made themselves known to me through a few articles referring to them while folks were discussing NIN’s Hesitation Marks. I’d noticed that they had released a new album in 2013 so I checked it out. It turned out that it wasn’t just an album, it was this monolithic event. Shaking the Habitual is this sprawling record laid out over three LPs. It’s a mixture of electronic, ambient and droning noise. The band consists of brother/sister duo Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer. The Swedish siblings have been making music together since 1999, and Karin has released solo work under the name Fever Ray. I’ve visited their past records, all of which I think are very good and stand on their own, but Shaking The Habitual is a different beast entirely.
“A Tooth For an Eye” opens the record with an amazing rhythm that could’ve come right off Remain In Light. It’s pulsating and raw, with Karin’s vocals shouted at us in condemnation. It’s a hell of a way to get things going. Then “Full of Fire” kicks in and for 10 bizarre, oddly funky minutes we’re taken on a trip that is both stimulating and horrifying. This song embodies the spirit of the whole record, really. It’s visceral, strange, frightening and hallucinogenic. The beats Olof creates feel as organic as they do synthetic. That’s the true beauty of this album. It’s as if you can taste these rhythms, not just feel them. It’s a metallic taste – war and smooth, with a ton of alkalinity. I honestly don’t know what are actual instruments and what are samples, and that’s how I want it to remain. I love the mystery and magic created on this album.
Besides tracks like “A Tooth For an Eye,” “Full of Fire” and “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” there are plenty of dizzying noise tracks that take up plenty of real estate on this album. “A Cherry On Top” moves and glides like a ghost through the speakers. These ethereal sounds come in and out. Some might find this eight minutes wasted, but I find it to be quite wonderful. A moment of tethered serenity, knowing something is going to come out of the fog at any moment and grab you. “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized” is the centerpiece here. A 19-minute epic journey into a cloud of noise and dreamy soundscapes. It’s one whole side of a record. Grab a beer and sit as this song engulfs you. Spirits rise in and out of the ether as a distant spectral light slowly brightens throughout the composition. “Fracking Fluid Injection” is nearly 10 minutes of delayed howls and metallic surges of noise. What these tracks prove to me is that The Knife aren’t interested in sountracking your house party. They’re serious artists making a statement. At times these songs sound like modern avant-garde classical music. They feel like heady artistic statements, and I love that.
Shaking The Habitual is a massive aural feast that, if you somehow walk away hungry from, I’m afraid you’re just not cut out for this sort of musical theater. And that’s what this album is – a musical theater and Karin and Olof are the directors, producers and performers. “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” is like a modern aria, filled with the bombast, emotion, blood and sweat of something like “La boheme.” It’s also something I think Trent Reznor would be proud to call his own (a future collaboration between these two would be unreal, just sayin’). “Raging Lung” is unbelievably good, with its world music vibe opening up into something quite darker and then showing a vulnerability in Karin’s vocals. The Talking Heads vibe returns too, with a keyboard line that sounds like Adrian Belew making weird noises with his guitar. “Networking” sounds like Devo getting all crazy with some Synsonics drums. “Stay Out Here” is a stunner, with sensuality and menace colliding to move our bodies into the abyss. This song has the vibe of a neo-futuristic film – something like Blade Runner or Dark City. This album truly is a world unto itself.