It may be Monday (and raining), but that doesn’t mean you have to have to act like it. Cold wave duo Her Royal Harness, a collaboration between Norwegian songwriter Helen Jaeger and London producer Dylan Long—who met by having an argument online—can make it feel as though the weekend never ended. At the very least, you can maybe get excited for the next one.
Earlier this year, The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual proved a startling leap forward for the electronic duo but left a void where some of us would have liked to hear more spooky club bangers. But now comes goth-pop duo Azar Swan, whose first self-identity-obsessed video for “Amrika,” and new sinuous grindfest “In My Mouth" – out today as a digital 7” on Pendu Sound – has resolved that dire shortage.
If you were wondering about the title, well: Zorah Atash, who handles the spine-tingling vocals for the pair, says the song "is about not being about to fight our instincts. It’s a sort of in-the-jungle love song. A primordial love song."I’d say that about covers it.
With a spring-coiled beat, cold synth stabs, and bells that could ring in doomsday, you’re definitely poised above an abyss, sexual or otherwise. Either way, it’s a track with extreme gravity that’ll still let you move (suggestively) on the dance floor.
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Everyone is coming out of the woodwork this year: Godspeed You Black Emperor, The Knife, and My Bloody Valentine have all reemerged in almost totally unanticipated ways after long hiatuses, and each has delivered a huge, haunting record that reaffirmed what we loved about the band. Now, in an era where “BoC” more likely means Blue Oyster Cult, Scottish electronica duo Boards of Canada are teasing a new release with wildly complicated clues, whipping fans into a frenzied scavenger hunt.
But let us save you the viral-underground PR theatrics: after all, the nerds are on the case. It begins with the appearance of some 12” vinyl singles that surfaced on Record Store Day, which contained odd snippets of what had to be new material. (One of those first clues is now selling on eBay for an asking price of $565.00, so get bidding.) Then there was an Adult Swim bumper spot and a strange, password-protected website that a fan cracked, leading us to this spooky but alluring video.
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Now it’s official: the new album, Tomorrow’s Harvest, is out on June 11 from Warp Records. Will anyone be able to resist, given that so much buzz has built up around it already? Will you need a World War II-era decryption device to even listen to the damn thing? Will the new Daft Punk album this year be delivered via hot air balloon? For the moment, nothing seems impossible.
Oh, and here’s the tracklist, in case there’s some kind of a clue in there, too:
02. Reach For The Dead
03. White Cyclosa
04. Jacquard Causeway
06. Cold Earth
07. Transmisiones Ferox
08. Sick Times
10. Palace Posy
11. Split Your Infinities
13. Nothing Is Real
15. New Seeds
16. Come To Dust
17. Semena Mertvykh
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It didn’t take us long to fall in love with Swedish electronic art-pop-feelings outfit The Knife’s new album, Shaking the Habitual. Chances are, you’ve fallen in love with it, too. The diverse sonic palettes, the beautiful chaos, the social, cultural and political fault lines along which the music was written. And chances are, if this was your bag, you’ll find the details surrounding their upcoming tour thoroughly unsurprising, and also probably totally awesome.
The upcoming Shaking the Habitual tour, which begins with a group of European dates this weekend, explores various types of performance and invites audience participation. As the band and Shaking the Habitual show team write on their blog:
“We know of the performative parts of power (Hegemony! Hi!), the on-going upholdance of everything through the performance of everyone. The habitual dance of the ordinary, the narratives of the normal. We know how the norm functions. But this is not every day. We have put on our glitter, we are ready to sparkle. This is special, if we were birds, (maybe we are) our feathers would shine (they do). We are building a place, a scene, a moment. But the blocks aren’t set, the pieces move. We slipper and slide around it, under it, above. Shaking our habitat.”
In addition to various DJs and a Stockholm appearance from Cool Pans, “the biggest steel band in Scandinavia” and festival regulars all over Europe, there are Absurdist Aerobics and “Danceoke” to be had. A number of April and May dates will open with a master class in “Deep Aerobics” taught by “master-teacher-guru-shaman-dictator-aerobics instructor” Tarek Halaby and will feature participatory work in “Death Electro Emo Protest Aerobics.” The description that follows on the blog is about in line with those adjectives as well—it is meant to be part protest, part exercise. And the best part of this aerobics class? Take one course, and you become a teacher. Never too late to learn something new.
For the dates in their hometown of Stockholm, the band will open with “Danceoke” with an artist collective and gender-binary-challenging feminist support group called ÖFA-KOLLEKTIVET. The group, which the tour team describes as having “an aftertaste of gingerbread, trust, hope, daring and do-it-yourself spirit,” will lead this karaoke exercise of collective dancing to music videos with a full dance floor. So it sounds like a big dance party! Anyone up for a trip to Stockholm any time soon?
“How overt are the politics on this record?” a friend on Facebook asked me about Shaking The Habitual recently after I’d made the ending panel from the Liv Strömqvist comic—that serves as album art—my personal page header. Proclaiming “HEAL THE RICH,” a message that intense wealth is what’s broken in the global environment, it’s a panel that serves to distill one facet of the message embodied within Shaking the Habitual, an album The Knife have made no secret is their “political statement” record about gender inequality, class inequality, and the general need for society to stop eating itself alive. “It’s problematic to me that all the interviews discuss the politics, but not the music,” the friend concluded. After having waited seven years since Silent Shout virtually invented the witch house genre and kickstarted, if not birthed outright, the current prevalent dark electronic aesthetic, it’s a fair question: The Knife are back after having the world envelop them, and their selling point is that gender and class equality’s fucked worldwide. Not exactly the most compelling argument for musical relevance.
But the political has always been personal for The Knife, harkening back to the assault survival on “Kino” from their debut record and the pop subversion of Deep Cuts. So the concept of Shaking The Habitual being the dreaded “message” or “conscious” record, painting Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer as backpack rappers out to warn the youth about the dangers of the Republican party, is very much a moot point. Within the first few seconds of album opener “Tooth for an Eye,” it becomes apparent that what they’ve done over the past few years, sonically, is summon a tidal wave of electronic calypso pop and drown it in dark noise, a spiral of intellect and emotion, body and brain working in synch. It’s the way The Knife’s music has operated since their beginning, but Shaking the Habitual is less concerned with the concept of typical (or shall we say habitual) song structure and more with allowing ideas to be born, develop, evolve, and then collapse, with full seeds being given license to an entire life cycle within the breathing room of nine- to 20-minute tracks.
Lest this be read as full apologia, or, worse yet, a precursor to the statement that “if you love the old Knife, you’ll love the new Knife,” understand that the entry points to Shaking the Habitual are few, far between, and on the whole front-loaded. That’s not to say that album’s first two singles (and first two tracks), “Tooth for an Eye” and “Full of Fire" are easy listening. The latter comes out of the gate with hellishly compressed drums that, at least within headphones, threaten to break eardrums at even the lowest levels, and takes nine minutes to thoroughly exhaust its nails-hard techno onslaught. The former unfolds a gorgeous melody that loses itself (or finds itself) in Karin’s Jeanette Winterson-conjuring scream of “I’m telling you stories / trust me”.
What, then, to make of this whole beautiful, sprawling mass? There hasn’t even yet been mention here of the Shannon Funchess (of Light Asylum) feature on “Stay Out Here,” which by her transformative voice’s very nature draws into question gender identity, or “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized,” aka “the 20-minute drone piece in the middle of the album that I fast forward through." With “Shaking The Habitual,” The Knife show that the question of “how overt are the politics on this album?” is completely irrelevant; it’s like matching the question of “How is the weather today?” with the answer: "Monkey butt." To properly align the question and answer, the starting point needs to be, “Who are The Knife now?”
The answer, then, is held in the 90 minutes of Shaking the Habitual, and it sure as hell ain’t the skate video that accompanies their heartbreaking party-jam staple “Heartbeats;” as Karin herself sings on “Full of Fire:" “Questions and the answers can take very long.” The Knife are no longer interested in working from the inside-out to dismantle the system; they’re not interested in three minute subversive pop music as a way to open minds. The master’s tools, the master’s house, etc. They’ve instead established a base camp on the fringes of all we hold dear and are bombarding conventions of art, gender, and economy with musical weapons that defy comprehension. As Karin sings on the album’s closing moment, probably the only traditionally defined “song” on the album, “Ready To Lose:” “I’m ready to lose a privilege.”
In the context of the dense, difficult Shaking The Habitual, it’s easy to read that as so many things: racial privilege, societal privilege, economic privilege. But also the privilege, for The Knife, of being an easily accessed “pop” band. Because they aren’t any longer. And that’s them putting their art where their politics are—it’s a powerful thing.
So it’s funny: when a press release lands in your inbox declaring some band the heir to The Knife, Sleigh Bells, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, Portishead, Zola Jesus, Fever Ray, and Nine Inch Nails, you’re going to be skeptical. But also, admit it: your curiosity is piqued by the boldness (if not the long-windedness) of such claims.
Such is the case with Death Rattle, a duo who have one goth-pop EP, HE&I, under their belts. Another, Fortress, is on the way. And you know what? They may not be The Knife, but they’ll certainly do the trick. Check out a YouTube sampler of everything you’ve got coming to you:
Promising, no? If you want to hear a full song, though, check out “The Blows” below. Lot of rhyming in that sentence, sorry. You can download this track for free, by the way.
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We’ve been overexcited for a minute now about The Knife’s first album in six years—replaying Silent Shout, watching the teaser for Shaking The Habitual, and, at long last, hearing an actual track: the absolutely savage “Full Of Fire.” Now another song, “A Tooth For An Eye,” is floating around out there.
Where “Full Of Fire” was nine minutes of almost nothing but percussion, “A Tooth For An Eye” injects some of The Knife’s incongruous Caribbean color into the gloom. The steel rattles and pings, the clicks clack and the synths cut through with bony, squelchy, paranoid accents. Once again, showing the wankers how it’s done.
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It’s been six years since Swedish electronic duo The Knife’s Silent Shout—a monumental slab of haunted house beats and ambient chills—found its way to the top of every halfway hip music writer’s year-end best-of list. Even with excellent solo material from Karin Andersson’s Fever Ray and Olof Dreijer’s Oni Ayhun filling the interceding months, fans will accept no substitute for the real thing. Which apparently will be here soon.
The Knife’s official site now features just a 43-second YouTube clip titled “We asked our friends and lovers to help us.” As if that weren’t cryptic enough, we also get this enigmatic note: “Music can be so meaningless. We had to find lust. We asked our friends and lovers to help us.” Aha! Now these are sounding like lyrics. Creepy lyrics.
The video itself doesn’t offer many clues as to what the upcoming album, titled Shaking The Habitual, may be like. We get stalker-ish footage of the duo on swings, a spooked sound that seems to be playing backwards, and finally a glimpse of the sort of rave that The Knife’s best bangers would incite. Sadly, if the rumors are to be believed, it’ll be spring before we hear what they’re dancing to.
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Whether you know Karen Dreijer Andersson from her work with The Knife or as Fever Ray, you know she’s one of the more indelible artists making popular music today, immersing listeners in found sounds and profoundly strange aesthetic landscapes. The Knife haven’t released an album since 2006, Fever Ray not since 2009, but Andersson’s remained active. Today, she released a new song titled "No Face," off the We Are The Works In Progress compilation. As Fever Ray’s website notes, the track was initially written for "The Wolf Hour," a play adapted from an Ingmar Bergman film.
You can listen to the track at Disco Naivete; as the website points out, it’s reminiscent of Klaus Nomi and Tomorrow, In A Year, the opera that The Knife wrote music for last year. There’s certainly something in those hiccuping vocals and bleak, droning synthesizers. The album it’ll be featured on, We Are The Works In Progress is a benefit compilation for victims of the Japan tsunami, organized by Blonde Redhead. In addition to Andersson, it’ll feature contributions from Broadcast, John Maus, Deerhunter and more. You can pre-order the vinyl now; it’ll be released digitally on January 10th.
Below, watch the video for "Seven" off Fever Ray’s self-titled album.