The Knife have always been difficult. Even their biggest hit “Heartbeats” is a tough, squelchy electronic workout. It's melodic but you often had to search for it and it would seem the years have only served to ossify the faceless Swedish duo.
Despite coming into the public consciousness after Argie-Swede folk crooner José González covered that same single which was subsequently used on a shit-load of adverts, Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer-Andersson of brother-sister twosome The Knife have tried to retain their staunchly anti-commercial stance; an ethos which reached its pomp as they refused to show up to collect the six awards they won at the 2007 Grammy Awards. And they're no afraid to alienate either, with pretension coming almost second nature to the duo, name-checking Aki Kaurismäki as an influence and thinking nothing of filling the middle of their latest album Shaking The Habitual - their fourth album proper – with a nineteen minute track featuring little but a borderline mind-numbing drone.
Far from the drone-inspired garage rock of such seminal acts as Sonic Youth or even the drone metal of Stephen O'Malley's Sunn O)))), midpoint “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised” is a lazy stab at highfalutin ambience: a never-ending Chinese water torture track that would derail any album.
2006's Silent Shout, the bands seminal work and the aforementioned recipient of the sextuple Grammys, was dark and at times difficult but it was ultimately rewarding. The title track buzzed with a threatening bass just beneath the surface and the melody formed out of a pulsating synth: it was critically-acclaimed music for the Pseuds and for the dance-floor. Shaking The Habitual features such tracks: “Full of Fire” is a vicious, stomping piece of proto-grime, pulsating and gripping you, dragging you to the dance-floor. But it's also an album that makes you wait for the goods. Never before have I quite experience an album of such schizophrenia: it's like The Knife wouldn't want you to have too many fun, exciting tracks lest you feel overwhelmed so fuck it, here's ten minutes of dross buzzing and scraping (I'm looking at you “Cherry On Top”) to bring you back down to earth. Take the dizzying one-two of Kuduro floor-filler “Without You My Life Would Be Nothing” and eery but empty time-vacuum “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” and you'll understand: it's like taking your children out of a ball-pit and shoving them in front of a Michael Haneke movie-marathon.
Presumably this is the duo's attempt at leaning further towards Karin Dreijer-Andersson's Fever Ray project, with her eponymous album being viewed by many as having a great many qualities that seemed in contrast to her work with The Knife but this is not Fever Ray. That album brimmed with intent and artistic merit, whereas Shaking The Habitual at times seems to spiral off out over the edge, diving up-turned-nose first into their own arse.
Seven years is a long time between albums three and four and clearly something happened in that time (maybe the adulation and pressure of creating music that people actually like got too much). Art, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder and plenty of musicians have created music that is challenging and at times even unpleasant but you never feel like you gain anything from Shaking The Habitual. At times it's all effort and no reward. At times it feels like the magic has all but gone.
Shaking The Habitual is out now on Rabid