6. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
When choosing songs for best of lists, one common strategy is going by what you listened to the most. Makes sense, right? If an album was the best, you’d want to listen to it repeatedly. Many things that result in pleasure, from smoking a cigarette to running five miles, are repeated to regain that initial pleasure. But is this an absolute metric of what is good?
The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual is unlikely to be the most played album in many iTunes libraries because it’s difficult, paranoia-inducing, at times plain unsettling, and relentlessly thought-provoking. The songs are long, demand attention, and Karin Dreijer Andersson sings in an exaggerated kink that makes her Swedish roots seem almost extraterrestrial. Yeah, it’s demanding. And, its subject matter is equally demanding, asking the listener to examine and abandon that which we do repeatedly, instinctually from conditioning, habitually. Like, say, listening to Yeezus.
The resulting album may not be the most enjoyable to all. It is, though, still experimenting with dance music and using pop-rooted Western melodies, directly and indirectly, with moments of fun (“Stay Out Here”, “Full of Fire”) and beauty (“Raging Lung”, “Ready to Lose”) not hard to find with a minimal effort.
But, beyond sonic pleasures, The Knife have created a useful and vital record, essentially calling everything from gender roles to religion to political traditions into question. That includes lists like this. Olof Dreijer told The Guardian, “We are constructed to like certain things. We’ve been teaching a bit at this summer camp for teenage girls who want to make electronic music, and there we often talk about this idea of quality in music and what informs our ideas of what is supposed to be good and bad music. You know that music history is written by privileged white men, so we can ask ourselves how important it is to repeat their ideas.” I think that means Yeezus is still cool. –Philip Cosores