Swedish duo the Knife poured a lot of sweat and ideas into last year’s sprawling two-CD album Shaking the Habitual (Mute), their first new album since 2006, and its bold experiments build upon the group’s well-established electro-goth sound. Not all of those experiments are easy on the ears: “Fracking Fluid Injection” is almost ten minutes of dissonant bowed metal and pained vocal sounds, and “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized” is even more of an endurance test, its hovering, beatless electronic drone lasting nearly twice that long. Some are just silly: “A Cherry on Top,” for instance, mates borderline nonsensical lyrics (“Coffee with girls and a racing team / The Haga Castle evening cream”) with shapeless low-end twang. But for the most part the album meets the listener at least halfway, with post-techno beats that render relatively accessible its chilly mix of ominous, pulsing synthesizer, alternately tense and soothing electronic melodies, and hectoring vocals. Karin Dreijer Andersson, who provides those vocals, is as unpredictable as any other element of the Knife’s music, jumping from whimsical swoops that make her sound like a street-urchin version of Bjork to a sort of strained rasp with stern, clenched-jaw phrasing; sometimes electronic effects drop her voice into a male range a la Laurie Anderson. “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” complements its thundering percussion with what sound like wooden flutes, and Andersson splits her time between throaty chants and falsetto yammers. Her brother and partner, Olof Dreijer, creates the arrangements almost single-handedly, and he’s never been more assured—you might even say he’s become self-indulgent (Like most two-CD sets, Shaking the Habitual could’ve used a good edit.) But the album’s wandering and weirdness is liberating and exciting, not just distracting. —Peter Margasak $35
Speedy Ortiz’s Major Arcana (Carpark) isn’t a right-away album. I found it via “No Below,” a solemn single by the Northampton foursome that’s propelled by a hypnotic ascending-and-descending guitar line that hooked me when the raw but tender vocals of front woman Sadie Dupuis came in right in step with it. It’s the album’s best track, and every time I tried to listen to the whole thing, I couldn’t help skipping forward to it. On my fourth or fifth spin, though, it hit me that Major Arcana hangs together as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts. It’s jagged and peculiar and sometimes achingly, nakedly nostalgic for the 90s (particularly in the way Dupuis seems so trepidatious about spilling her guts into the mike), and its noisy anthems sound tailor-made for the awkward kids with their heads down in the back of the class. —Kevin Warwick Geronimo! and Brontosaurus open. $10
A celebration of the tenth anniversary of the ongoing Reader feature "The Secret History of Chicago Music."