It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s the “My Favorite Albums of 2013” list time of year. I’ve been feverishly working on mine, and I’m nearly done. It’s probably the most detailed and agonizing list I’ve made yet. Before I started this page I loathed those lists. I felt they were pretentious, overzealous, and way over-the-top. Who cares, right? Well, it turns out that I do. I think the big shift for me was that a fellow writer had told me that you don’t call it “The Best of…”, as that list seems to assume that your word is golden. These lists aren’t objective. They’re as subjective as they come. You simply state “My Favorite Albums…”, that implies that this list is what YOU love. YOUR favorite albums. People looking at these lists want to see what everyone else loved this year and maybe look up a band they didn’t know about. So that little change in perspective was all I needed to become a fan of “the list”.
Having said that, there were several albums I bought this year that didn’t make my top ten. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love these albums, it just means I didn’t have enough time to truly dig in deep with ’em and cozy up with some headphones and a tasty beverage. I’m going to talk a little about each of these records over the next couple of days before I reveal the big list on Monday, December 16th. Up first is The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual.
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 with rock n’ roll. But electronic music, well in the late 90s I began dabbling with The Chemical Brothers, Crystal Method, The 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 NINs 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 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 this 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 ten 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; warm, 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 8 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 this song. “Fracking Fluid Injection” is nearly ten 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 avante classical music. They feel like heady artistic statements, and I love that.
Shaking The Habitual is this massive aural feast that if you 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; it’s 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 some neo-futuristic film, something like ‘Blade Runner’-meets-‘Dark City’. This album truly is a world unto itself.
So why didn’t this make my top ten? Well, the fact of the matter is that I came to this record pretty late in the year. I really hadn’t had enough time for this heady album’s 90 minutes of dense, pulsating music penetrate my ever thick skull. I can say that without a doubt this record will be looked back on in years to come as a monumental achievement. It hits so many points of interest for me that with each listen I’m more in awe of it than I was previously. While not a concept record, it’s very political. Gender, social, and sexual issues are themes The Knife used to help build this mammoth listen. It’s sprawl is immense and it’s sound is as unique as they come.
Shaking The Habitual is a record not to be missed.
9.5 out of 10