Allow me to paint you a picture:
It’s 8:00am and you’re sitting on the train, bleary-eyed, hoping you don’t fall asleep and miss your stop. You think to yourself, “Hey, this is the perfect opportunity to listen to that new album by The Knife! Maybe the electronic grooves the band is so notorious for will wake me up and jump start my day!” Ten minutes later, you’re wide awake, and afraid to ever sleep again. Welcome to Shaking the Habitual; a disturbing, beautiful, impossible, political, genius, album. I don’t have the space for all the adjectives this album deserves.
Firstly, this album is pointless if you don’t understand its context. This album isn’t about sounding nice or rocking out; this album is about exploring what music is. So if you go into Shaking the Habitual understanding this, it’s much easier to appreciate. In fact, the Swedish duo released an interview shortly after the album was released to help out those of us who didn’t know this to begin with (myself included). Through this album, The Knife experiments with new instruments, structures, and subjects, and it’s all part of their experiment with sound.
Secondly, have a lot of time to devote to the album. In its entirety, the album lasts over 90 minutes. But it’s not just 90 minutes of music. There are periods of chaotic collisions of sound that put you on edge, briefly followed by lapses of everything but ambient noise recorded in a boiler room (true story). The album brings your mind in and out of focus, undulating through your thoughts. And that’s nice, because people like myself can’t consistently focus on anything for more than an hour at best.
One of the most unique experiences I had with this album was listening to “Full of Fire.” As described above, I was on the train, half-dozing, listening to Shaking the Habitual, when this track began. I was digging it at first, and it slowly, eventually got more and more disturbing. I can’t put my finger on what it was, but by the middle of the nine-minute overture, my mind was generating some pretty disturbing images, fed only by what I was hearing. It really rattled me, which I suspect is part of its intended effect. As soon as the nightmare ended, “Cherry on Top” begins, which brings your mind back to rest with its serene, comforting sounds that almost resemble white noise. And though this only lasts for a few minutes, it becomes clear by this point that The Knife really knows what they’re doing; they know where your brain is going.
My feelings about this album are incredibly conflicting, which I think is perhaps the most appropriate outcome for Shaking the Habitual. On one hand, I truly appreciate the message(s) The Knife is trying to put out there. I applaud them for their fight against the commercialism of music. On the other hand, the album is just so damn weird. No, this is not the album I would listen to when I’m jogging or getting ready for a night on the town. And its epic runtime and stretches of near-slience can really wear on your patience. This album definitely isn’t for everybody. In then end, though, I’m glad for the experience of Shaking the Habitual, which is so much more than a mere album.