The Best Albums of 2013, #4

band01The Knife, Shaking the Habitual

Every year it seems there’s one album so dark, weird, and impenetrable that it sticks with me throughout the entire year, where I might not even yet have a grasp on the music yet, but the way it reveals more of itself with every listen compels me to place it high on my list because I know it’s going to become an enduring album in my collection. This year that album comes courtesy The Knife, who after three albums of developing a highly unique and creative take on modern electropop completely inverted their sound, abandoning all trace of formula in favor of a more free-form, experimental approach. For those who were attached to Deep Cuts, Silent Shout, and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s Fever Ray project, it was easy to see how Shaking the Habitual was so difficult to get used to. Instead of a focused, clear approach she and her brother Olof Dreijer throw everything at the wall. It’s like moving from the precision of Roy Lichtenstein to the chaos of Jackson Pollock. As such, it requires a different mindset, an openness from the listener. I suppose years of listening to the more experimental side of metal and extreme music had me a little more mentally prepared to take in this record, but like I always say, experimentation doesn’t mean squat if there’s no song there, and for all of this record’s lack of structure, this is an incredibly engaging piece of work, a nightmarish pastiche of tribal beats, chanted vocals, clattering synths, and odd hooks that wriggle their way into your head. “Full of Fire” and “Raging Lung” are especially nasty that way, while “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” is oddly endearing, “Stay Out Here’s is creepily enthralling and the stuttering “Networking” manages to nervously captivate. And “Fracking Fluid Injection” is just plain terrifying. I’ll readily admit, I loved the way The Knife worked within the confines of conventional song structure, but the way they’ve thrown all that away and went completely off the map, daring to join the likes of Can and Scott Walker, and much to my great surprise, succeeding.