Siblings teetering on an avant-garde Knife edge
Album Review: The Knife Shaking the Habitual (Rabid) *****
The fourth album from Sweden's most lauded brother-and-sister electro-pop duo weighs in at 96 minutes, 20 seconds: that's an unusually lengthy album in MP3 terms, a double album for those who still favour the compact disc, and a triple album for all you vinyl romantics out there.
Such epic artistic statements almost always smack of the worst kind of naval-gazing and while there's no shortage of self-indulgence on display here, it's of such a thrillingly daring, single-minded nature that throws up some of the most exciting – not to mention exhilarating – music you're likely to hear in 2013. Take a bow Karin and Olof Dreijer.
Unlike their breakthrough second album, the arresting Deep Cuts, and Karin's marvellous self-titled Fever Ray offering, there are no concessions to commercial tastes whatsoever.
Their compatriot Jose Gonzales kick-started his career thanks to his sweet folk reinterpretation of their Heartbeats hit, but it would take a brave soul indeed to rework the likes of the 19-minute Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized with its dark, disorientating beats, disembodied vocals and woozy construction. Despite its marathon run-time, it's a gripping, meticulously textured track that showcases the boundless scope of electronic music.
Full of Fire is leaner and more muscular: for eight minutes it thunders and rages like Nine Inch Nails at a rave.
This is techno reinvented in intoxicating fashion and you're likely to do a double take at the point where Karin breaks into an interpolation of Salt-N-Pepa: "Let's talk about gender, baby, Let's talk about you and me."
Glitchy electronica abounds, but there is no shortage of organic instrumentation and found sounds too. The percussion is particularly noteworthy, skipping from the metronomic to tribal polyrhythms.
All of these elements combine spectacularly on Without You My Life will Be Boring – one of the more focused tracks on what is a deliciously frenzied, anything-goes collection.
At every turn, this is avant-garde music to challenge an audience weaned on a diet of formal songwriting. There are few hooks or melodies here, and Karin's politicised words are borne out of an interest in feminist studies and queer theory rather than the sort of clichéd platitudes that form the content of so much music we're exposed to on a daily basis.
Shaking the Habitual is likely to infuriate as many as it thrills: this is music that's about as polarising as it gets.
For those keen for an immersive, otherworldly experience quite at odds with even the most out-there electronica, it's a must-hear album.
KEY TRACKS Full of Fire; Without You My Life will Be Boring