Fever Ray Fever Ray

[Mute; 2009]

Others: The Knife, Honey Is Cool

For the past few days, I’ve had a pretty solid migraine. I’m fine now, thanks. During this migraine, though, I wasn’t physically capable of listening to music without wincing and curling back into the fetal position. Yet during this time, the one thing that comforted me was Tetris. I’ve always viewed Alexey Pajitnov’s video game as one of the few things on this planet that is conceptually and structurally perfect. Watching these geometrically flawless blocks, formed into crude shapes, slowly float down the screen by my control has always been an empowering experience. Feeling the searing, Christ-forsaken Orb of Terrible shift from behind my eyes to either side of my skull was made all the better by the act of simultaneously playing this simple yet beautiful game alongside the enigmatic and chilling sounds of Karin Elisabeth Dreijer Andersson’s new project, an exercise in femininity, childhood, and unrest. Fever Ray is a growing, living, breathing document of what electronic music can be. As each Tetromino fell from the sky, and as the seven pain relievers I popped were absorbed into my bloodstream, Andersson was building a niche, forging a territory.

Andersson, that commanding voice behind The Knife, has forged similar territory in this ensemble with her brother. Yet I cannot say this strongly enough: This isn’t a Knife record. There isn’t a single goddamn “Heartbeats” or “We Share Our Mother’s Health” on this album. This isn’t a fun record you can spin in the Dodge Neon with your girlfriends. This isn’t an album you can listen to at the new indie bar in your town while rolling. This album hasn’t a single song you can put on your “Alex’s Groovalicious Jamz” playlist. This is an event. A happening. An understated album that teaches you what music is capable of right now.

Fever Ray’s opener “If I Had A Heart” is now everywhere and has been heard by a sizable enough audience. It has been remixed a few times, and a whole lotta people are talkin’ it up. But none of it matters when the song is actually playing. The song’s only pulse comes from a strange, implacable loop, and the rest is all power. Soft, subtle, controlled power. Andersson’s filtered voice, a trademark of hers, is here in full swing, and the effect is chilling and brilliant. The lyrics, as per anything Andersson has committed to song, is cryptic and frightening. This woman has been writing some of the most compelling and provoking pop songs in recent years, and all under everyone’s noses. This album is no different.

Andersson’s simple syntax is what makes her albums all the more unsettling. “When I grow up/ I want to be a forester/ Run through the grass on high heels,” she sings. Take from that what you will, but this odd child-like pronouncement of womanhood, laid over bending squelches and synthetic thuds, evokes not emotion, but mood. Likewise, the same effect is had on “Keep the Streets Empty for Me,” where Andersson tells a story whose plot is blurred and cryptic, à la “Forest Families” from Silent Shout. “There is room in my lap/ For bruises, asses, handclaps,” she sings. Later, in a bold act of vulnerability, she takes down her façade and steps up to the mic completely filterless, letting a soft, sad, innocent voice softly shine through, singing “I'm laying down eating snow/ My fur is hot, my tongue is cold.” The music is loop-based, simple patterns, and Andersson’s verbiage is naked and naïve, yet this is all covering something thicker, denser.

Juxtaposing foley noises, drum loops, and auxiliary click-clacking against minimalist, percussive synth lines and enormous swells of energy, the album clearly has a sonic template and a cohesion easily identifiable within the first three tracks. Any danceable elements in Deep Cuts or even Silent Shout are retained here only in spirit and influence. Fever Ray is more internal, cerebral. This gives each song a far more human element than any of The Knife’s colder moods. In “Seven,” for example, the underlying beat seems to be an amalgam of various synthetic noises and a natural feel of a human making physical contact with a tangible object. The chorus exudes a very sparkly, glittery quality — making way later for a more hazy sensibility — and the track’s childhood themes hint at a stranger, morbid underbelly (We talk about dishwater tablets/ And we dream about heaven).

I give partial credit to Fever Ray for my migraine leaving me alone as of late. Yet during my few days without listening to music, it made me question the point of reviewing music, the role of criticism in this disposable cultural climate, something I’m sure every disgruntled music fan has done after reading any given thing about any given band to ever exist. Is this just a practice in self-indulgence? Could and should long-form criticism still be considered a buyer’s guide? Yet listening to Fever Ray washed all of my anxieties away and instilled back into me the joys of music listenership, basically making this album a fucking godsend. Pick it up! Or don’t!

1. If I Had A Heart
2. When I Grow Up
3. Dry And Dusty
4. Seven
5. Triangle Walks
6. Concrete Walls
7. Now’s The Only Time I Know
8. I’m Not Done
9. Keep The Streets Empty For Me
10. Coconut

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