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It's probably fair to admit that 2013 was a divisive year for fans of The Knife. The duo's return after a six year break was met with critical acclaim, but was also rejected by some fans. In the years since Silent Shout the band's fan base had grown. Part of this was due to Karin's solo record as Fever Ray, which at the time seemed to receive an unprecedented level of support, as well as a number of electronic acts appearing on the scene citing The Knife as a key influence. When Shaking the Habitual was announced, many expected a return to the dark electronica of Silent Shout, despite the fact the duo had rarely stayed in one sound for too long and their last release (a collaboration with Planningtorock and Mt. Sims) was an avant-opera about Charles Darwin.

Shaking the Habitual was abrasive and deeply political, which created a barrier for some of their fans. Politics had always been present in The Knife's work, but here they were front and centre. Meanwhile a band notable for crafting haunting, often beautiful electronic pop had unleashed huge sonic monsters on an unsuspecting public. The Knife always knew that they were releasing a provocative, divisive record - there's a big clue in the name.

In some respects then Shaken Up Versions is the album that fans expected. It's certainly far more accessible, and much more ingrained in traditional dance and electronic styles, but it still has that unfamiliarity that remains The Knife's trademark. Rather than being a companion piece to Shaking the Habitual, Shaken Up Versions feels like an album in its own right, an essential addition to fans' collections, but also a good starting point for anyone who is still unfamiliar with the band and looking for an entry point. It's also an interesting release as it takes in tracks from all of The Knife's studio records to date (aside from that opera), reworked for their recent tour (itself controversial for the use of playback).

Anyone who attended that tour will know just how much vibrancy these tracks have, blurring the noisy Shaking the Habitual with a sound that's perhaps somewhere between Silent Shout and Deep Cuts. Opening track 'We Share Our Mothers Health', opens with quick tempo clapping, before introducing deep bass and stomp style percussion. There's a tribal rhythm here, one that perfectly compliments the lyrics ("we came down from the north / blue hands and a torch") which suggest mass migration. There's a hint of the original in there as well. There are a number of repeated synthesiser riffs that reuse the verse and chorus melodies, and Karin's vocals seem pitched more or less the same as before. There's far more urgency to the track though, which really helps it to stand out as an opening to the album.

On previous records The Knife have tended towards more subdued opening tracks. 'Silent Shout' is a slow, brooding number, whilst 'Neon' (from The Knife) is a quiet, almost whispered introduction to an album. With the violent squeals, groaning drones and infectious percussion this marks a more extrovert band than we've seen before, and by opening with an older track it's almost as though Karin and Olof are screaming "we've been here all along, we won't be ignored any more."

'Got 2 Let U' is also markedly more up-tempo than its original, but is far more recognisable. It opens with a house style beat, and a bouncy lead. Karin's voice retains a similar sound to Deep Cuts for the 'female' vocal section, but for the 'male' sections the voice is modulated differently; easier to identify as Karin's but a little more androgynous. The male vocal sections also feature harsher backing, the same repeated beat, but with more clanging percussion and deeper brass instruments - which seems appropriate given that 'Got 2 Let U' is about an abusive man.

Using the manipulation of sound to tell a story is something The Knife have a habit of doing throughout their work. Lyrically their songs can be obtuse, but the music is often the key to unlocking meaning. The shaken up version of 'Bird' is a great example of this. The original is an odd ditty, with Karin adopting a naive, childlike voice over an electro pop backing of rising and falling bass synthesiser and simple guitar riffs. Here it's chaos. Frantic percussion that only intensifies as the song progresses, compelling you to move and escape society's shackles through dance. When the lead synthesiser enters, it's not as immediately euphoric as the guitar in the original, instead it struggles to take flight and becomes another element in the chaos as Karin sings "but you wanted me to be a girl / without feathers, without urge." As the song nears its conclusion more abrasive synthesisers, like air raid sirens, enter. They are the last thing you hear as the more human percussion gives way. You tried to be free but they spotted you and clipped your wings before you could get far enough from them.

Like many of the songs taken from Shaking the Habitual, 'Without You My Life Would Be Boring' isn't a massive change from its original version, more a reimagining. The percussion has been made much clearer, along with the flutes, and the backing vocals have been stripped out in some places. This is perhaps where the album's flaws lie. The newer tracks, whilst more dance-floor focussed, feel too similar to their originals, whilst the older cuts feel like fully fledged remixes. Despite being the lead single 'Without You...' is perhaps the weakest track on the album.

'Ready To Lose' is perhaps the best reimagined track from Shaking the Habitual. Originally a down-tempo track that closed the album, it pitched Karin's vocals against a gradually developing backing that used softer percussive synthesiser sounds. On Shaken Up Versions the instrumentation is much grander and the track itself seems to be slowed down even more. Witnessing it live it was as though The Knife were attempting a singer-songwriter moment. It certainly has all the hallmarks, drawn out vocals, a rising and falling theremin (along with other synthesisers) that seems to ape the string quartets so often used in bombastic, capital-e, emotional pop.

In the midst of Shaken Up Versions' energetic dance tracks, 'Ready To Lose' is a glorious number. The politics couldn't be clearer - "Ready to lose the privilege" and "dysfunctional culture / spin me away / preserving a blood line" being key lines - but the production along with lending it a sense of scale, also imbues the song with humour. Just as how in the live show Karin awkwardly sat behind a piano to 'play' the song, here 'Ready To Lose' sits awkwardly six tracks into a dance record, parodying a version of The Knife that thankfully doesn't exist.

The final Shaking the Habitual track is 'Stay Out Here', which was written in collaboration with Emily Roysdon and Shannon Funchess (Roysdon wrote the lyrics based on her experience taking part in Occupy Wall Street). The basic beat remains, but it's been muffled, and only snippets of the original track's backing instruments remain, positioned almost at random, modulated beyond recognition, like ghosts of another world. On Shaken Up Versions 'Stay Out Here' takes on a menacing guise, the beat keeps steady, creating a sense of impending doom. As other sounds move in and out of the song, and the vocalists pass through it feels as though the track is building to something - perhaps something terrible. It ends abruptly, your heart beating almost in time, your breathing stopped.

Having already been reimagined once before, 'Pass This On' is probably The Knife's most versatile song, here taking on new life as a techno-influenced track that melds the steel drums of the original to an infectious beat. Here Karin appears to share vocal duties with Shannon Funchess, using a more natural vocal style alongside the original high-pitched voice for the chorus. 'Pass This On' is famous for its video which featured female impersonator Rickard Engfors miming along to the track, and it's notable that in this version the brother the narrator is in love with, has been replaced with sister - bringing gender politics to the fore. In the original the vocals (in the verses) seem more androgynous and lines like "does he know what I do?' and "if I ask him once / what would he say?" hint at something more than girl meets boy. Also, given the original video, the deepening of Karin's voice during the Silent Shout tour, and Shaken Up Versions switching of the gender pronouns, all point to the idea of The Knife exploring the anxiety around gender and sexuality.

And yet, perhaps we're reading too much into it. Who is to say that The Knife simply want us to see this as a song about the anxiety of falling in love and finding that love unrequited. For years the duo hid behind masks and avoided live appearances, it made it easier to disguise the gender and identity of the band members. Since Silent Shout, however, their audience has become more aware of Karin and Olof's roles in the band, particularly once Karin took to doing more press as Fever Ray and the band ditched the masks for the most recent album and tour. As such, changing the pitch of the vocals, switching gender signifiers and so on could just be a way of breaking down the binary rules we as an audience have implanted on the song. 'Pass This On' is versatile because every time the band has taken to presenting it in a new way (on Deep Cuts, with a video, on tour) they've offered a new way for us to interpret the song whilst staying completely true to it. One song can mean something different for thousands of different people - that's a beautiful gift.

Shaken Up Versions goes out on a high, with a sublime re-working of 'Silent Shout'. Of all the songs here, the titular track from their 2006 album has left the largest impression in The Knife's legacy (yes, more so than 'Heartbeats'). For many, Silent Shout is the definitive Knife album, and that haunting opening track, all pulsing bass and soft electronics full of fear, loneliness and longing is what fans wanted more of. Inspired by Charles Burns Black Hole, a graphic novel focusing on a horrific STD that causes mutations, it's an odd choice for this album (and the tour itself, which largely consisted of the more politically charged songs) yet here it is reimagined as a techno fuelled banger.

Appearing at the end of the album (and The Knife's live performances) 'Silent Shout' is a monstrous 7 minute work-out, merging a four to the floor beat with shuffling percussion and the steel-drum synth pad from the original. If anything, Shaken Up Versions is worth a purchase for this track alone. Listening to it is not enough, you've got to get up out of your seat and let the music take control. If you're not sweating by the time the kick-drum starts pounding around the 5 minute mark, you're not doing it right. Dance. Dance yourself fucking crazy because it's the only way to break out of the banality of our brief existence.

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It seems The Knife just won't give their contemporaries any breathing room these days. Just when everyone else started catching up with 'Heartbeats' (which may or may not be (probably isn't) around 2006), The Knife pushed the boundaries of Synth Pop even further with Silent Shout, an album that wasn't just "futuristic" in sound, but genuinely sounded like (and proved to be) an album ahead of its time. You see, it took Bat for Lashes, Grimes, Purity Ring, Crystal Castles, Kate Boy, iamamiwhoami, Chvrches and most unexpectedly, V.V. Brown 8 years to finally play catch-up with Silent Shout (and if you're Chvrches, Deep Cuts. Yikes. That's ten years ago, people!). That same year, the Knife out-did even themselves and released one of the most challenging, inspired, ambitious, and artful Pop albums of all-time: Shaking the Habitual. An album that would be easy to consider as 2013's electronic counter part to Swans' The Seer; a band known for ambition and experimentation, seemingly breaking out of a comfort zone that would be terrifying for anyone else.

And just when Röyksopp & Robyn thought the coast was clear... this happens.

On Shaken-Up Versions, Karin and Olaf breathe new life in already brilliant songs from old material and new. These alternate cuts were made specifically for the Shaking the Habitual tour, to better unify the band's live sound while still delivering older fan favorites. This is not the first time The Knife has pulled it off, a quick YouTube search for the Silent Shout live videos will show the duo exploring new territory through songs you'd have thought have already reached their full potential. The blissful 'Heartbeats', the Devo-fied 'Kino', and the pre-wubstep 'Pass This On', all were even better than their previous incarnations, but sadly, these renditions never saw the light of day as their own studio release.

But that's where Shaken-Up Versions delivers. It actually exists! Releases such as this are typically fan service and nothing more; an afterthought. But this is the kind of release other bands dream of having their fans celebrate this much.

The minimal-yet-riotous opener, 'We Share Our Mother's Health' is sure to exceed expectations, but it's the two following tracks that really make this EP's mark. The first of which, 'Got 2 Let U' takes a track which originally stood out for its innocence and goofiness (which was characteristic of a majority of Deep Cuts) somewhere sinister, but becomes even more dancable than its original version. And the plucked strings (whether electronic or otherwise) are absolutely wicked, like they were played by a spider's legs. 'Bird''s ultra-percussive polyrhythms add a mesmerizing amount of wonder and excitement to the song's groove, almost in the vein of 'Full of Fire', but with less emphasis on sounding claustrophobic and instead, giving the feeling of flying as high as the bird Karin sings about.

Speaking of which, every vocal performance here is original to this EP, excluding the tracks that were on Shaking the Habitual initially. Literally (and I really mean literally) every time I hear Karin, I find so much detail and personality in her voice that it becomes hypnotic trying to dissect each little inflection. Having these unique vocal takes makes it so easy to fall in love with the Knife all over again.

And such is the case on Shaken-Up Versions. Every track is bold, every track is adventurous, every track is top notch. It's almost unfair. Who knows how long it'll take for everyone else to catch up this time?

Rating 10/10

Dylan Jenkins