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Album review: The Knife, 'Shaking the Habitual'

*** (out of four)

Some people would argue that music is supposed to be fun--that you shouldn't have to think too hard about it and that, in the end, all any of us really wants is to slow dance with somebody or maybe drunkenly yell lyrics at our friends in a bar. Swedish electronic duo The Knife are not those people.

Actually, that's not fair: They once made a pop song called “Heartbeats” that lots of people have sung along to, and, by all accounts, the Knife are pro-dancing. Their last album, 2006’s “Silent Shout,” which essentially was a haunted house soundtrack, was immediately affecting, even if it wasn't exactly fun.

Upon first listen of the Knife’s new album “Shaking the Habitual,” most listeners probably will think the brother-sister duo could stand to lighten up. After all, the record is a 98-minute opus that borrows its name from a Foucault passage, features instruments like a bedspring and comes accompanied by a text manifesto denouncing fracking, the patriarchy and “hyper-capitalism.” The album demands attention–but it also rewards it.

If there were a club crazy enough to play the disorienting, frenetic music of songs like “Full of Fire,” “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” or “Networking,” it might be incredibly creepy, but it also would be kind of awesome. Driven by heavy basslines but amplified by an unidentifiable assortment of ambient sounds, these tracks are best appreciated at punishing volumes.

The industrial-leaning noise tracks “A Cherry on Top” and “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” similarly offer catharsis by teetering on the edge of unlistenability. On the other hand, the 19-minute drone track “Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized” and the nine-minute “Fracking Fluid Injection,” which seems to protest fracking by imitating the sound of natural gas extraction, fall over that edge.

Nothing is simple about “Shaking the Habitual.” By the time you're done with it, the West-Africa-goes-electronic rhythms of opener and standout “A Tooth for an Eye” and the brooding dance punk of “Stay Out Here” practically sound like Katy Perry. It might not be everyone's idea of a good time, but, like many things that seem overly complicated at first, thorough exploration makes it fascinating.

Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic

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