Release Date: Oct 27, 2017
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
"Of course we're growing restless," wrote the Knife in the manifesto that accompanied their last album, Shaking the Habitual. They cited "hyper-capitalism," Monsanto, ecology, privilege; they imagined the pulse of a throbbing dancefloor rearranging clubbers' very DNA. It was a vision of music as catalyst: They had few answers, but they knew that something--everything--needed to change.
"This country makes it hard to fuck!" Karin Dreijer bellows on "This Country," one of the more startling songs in her catalogue. "No definitions in our own needs," she sings, "The perverts define my fuck history." That's just one of many defiantly queer moments on Plunge, an album that uses sexuality and self-determination as a weapon against the oppression of normalcy. "We're not attractive to this country's standards," she practically spits.
On her self-titled 2009 album, Fever Ray sounded sleep-deprived, isolated, spaced-out and generally just seemed to be working through the trials of being a new mother. It was no wonder she claimed it would be the one and only album from the project. But now, over 8 years on, Fever Ray has returned, and much has changed within and without her.
Karin Dreijer, aka Fever Ray and formerly half of Swedish brother and sister duo The Knife, is back. Last heard fronting her band's farewell (and politically-charged) album Shaking The Habitual back in 2013, Plunge follows the Gothenburg native’s self-titled debut from 2009. While her debut continued her vocal deployment of pitch-shifted vocals which moved between keening and deep tones, creating unsettling, emotionally detached glacial soundscapes along the way, Plunge sees her emerging to even more startling effect.
At this stage, a decade-and-a-half on from 'Heartbeats' it's time to start talking about Karin Dreijer in the same reverent tones as, say, Aphex Twin or Björk. There aren't many artists since the turn of the millennium who have managed to consistently turn out exciting, rewarding and challenging electronic music - other than perhaps, Flying Lotus - which has managed to find success on both a mainstream and critical level than Dreijer, through her work with brother Olof in The Knife and here as her solo persona, Fever Ray. Dreijer's been so important in such a short time, she's even had a generation of younger songwriters whose careers she's either had a hand in launching or at the very least acted as a key stylistic influence on that success (Robyn, Likkie Li, CHVRCHES, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith).
T railed by a mysterious video, preceded by an arresting single, To the Moon and Back, and stealth-released on Friday, Fever Ray's first new music in eight years finds Karin Dreijer (she seems to have lost the Andersson) in fierce form. Pitch-shifted into a pervading mood of menace, Dreijer's vocals grapple with sex and relationships, with political engagement never far away ("Free abortions and clean water!" she huffs on This Country). Her electronics, meanwhile, are unrelentingly engaging, never just hitting presets.
Fever Ray has always been an outlet for independence. Karin Dreijer does things on her own terms, and while that's obvious in The Knife — the absurdist electropop duo between her and her brother, Olof Dreijer — it is particularly clear in her solo project. Her debut album as Fever Ray, 2009's self-titled LP, was a response to her having kids that turned into an open-ended album about an alien gawking at humanity, just odd enough to draw up cryptic images but soothing enough to lure thousands of new fans in.
Eight years is a long time to wait between albums, but in the case of Karin Dreijer's solo project, Fever Ray, it was worth the wait. Half of successful duo The Knife, with brother Olof, and rooted in the same experimental electro pop, Ms. Dreijer's Fever Ray branches out and explores the darker side of glossy and rhythmic electronic music. Those who liked 2009's self-titled debut will love Plunge.
On a recent episode of the liberal comedy show Broad City , protagonist Ilana Wexler faces a very contemporary problem: She hasn't been able to orgasm since Donald Trump became president. Like many women, she at first assumes the problem is localized, and she curses at her vagina, feeling frustrated with the limitations of her own body. Then, through an admittedly heavy-handed series of breakthroughs, she realizes that the problem isn't her sexuality, but Trump's efforts to to define when it is and is not an appropriate expression of sexuality.
When Winston Smith and Julia have sex for the first time in 1984 - a meticulously plotted, clumsily consummated fumble in the countryside, far away from prying eyes - they both know their tryst is more than just mere itch-scratching. It's about grasping the freedom to feel and fulfil desire, the transgression of wanting someone else's body even though it's contrary to all the political dogma they've been fed. By the time they've finished, it's less a moment of physical pleasure and more a proud act of defiance: "Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory." Karin Dreijer's second Fever Ray album, Plunge, often chases those same victories, transforming lust into something radical and liberating.
“The song is a prosthesis that extends like a limb into the gut and pulls out the half-digested heart.” When Karin Dreijer, the woman behind Fever Ray and one half of the Knife, announced her new release, that’s how she described her craft. For better or worse, the description is precisely on point. Phantom prostheses penetrating guts and ripping out organs — the image is powerfully visceral, undeniably strange, oddly intimate, and a tad insufferable.