Karin Elisabeth Dreijer has always possessed a specific music vision. Her run of records with her brother Olaf as The Knife has few parallels in terms of reshaping how people make and enjoy electronic music. The duo cracked open contemporary societal anxieties about technology and ran through a postmodern filter that only heightened and deepened the tension.
The Knife’s music was akin to a Bertolt Brecht play – they WANTED you to be uneasy.
And when Karin decided she needed a different outlet for her creative energies, she released a self-titled record in 2009 under the moniker Fever Ray. Allegedly crafted as her way of processing the birth of her first child, Fever Ray bursts at the seams with creative prowess, even as the music itself is skeletal, minimal, and androgynous.
Vocals are pitch-bent into oblivion, the bass thumps with a disarming syncopation, the snares clap only when absolutely necessary, and the synth patches burble and bubble with an ominous gravity. It’s wholly unsettling, and it’s easily one of my favorite records of this millennium.
Yet, with the release of Plunge on Rabid Records, Karin as Fever Ray has completely flipped the melodic script, while somehow amplifying the power, edge, and aggression of her debut. Eight years ago, she was more interested in alienating the listener with the distance she created between her vocals and the rhythm section.
With Plunge, Fever Ray gets right up in the listener’s ears and proclaims, “I give very few shits about what you think of me, my life, or my art.”
Much like the other records I’ve reviewed recently for Bearded Gentlemen Music, Plunge revels in its sexual agency. Plunge is at times caustic, jarring, and supremely unafraid, while still managing to be the creation of a woman who is on a quest for free self-expression that also affirms the listener.
It’s also a straight-ahead pop record that’s super-dancey, but still quite off-kilter. Major aspects of latter-day Bjork flirt openly with Grimes, while the lyrical honesty of Kate Bush and discombobulating aesthetics of Portishead make their presences known.
Plunge just feels big – musically and thematically.
The synth swells and keyboard trills create strong swathes of melody that bristle with angsty power, as powerful kick drum patterns provide the album its pacing and urgency. The snares clatter and rustle, acting more as ancillary percussion that fills in the edge of the songs than actual rhythmic elements. And it’s all processed within an inch of its respective lives, while still standing sentinel to Karin’s humanity.
I’m also enamored by the exquisite flow of these songs – both musically and aesthetically – especially in terms of how the arrangements and instrumentation envelop your ears and engage your brain.
- On “Musn’t Hurry,” a loping synth melody sits atop a very minimal bass fragment for half the song, until the bass kicks in and two other synth melodies enter the picture to converse with the original.
- “Falling” possesses the spectral energy, outre sound effect, and pitch-bent vocals that are most reminiscent of the debut. In short, it’s creepy as fuck (but in a good way).
- With “This Country,” Karin gives us what might be her most political statement, intoning atop a minor-key melody and hissing bass that “This country makes it hard to fuck!”
- Serving as the sole instrumental selection, the title track “Plunge” slowly layers a set of synth patterns and melodic samples while the rhythm section alternately squeaks, trembles, and thumps. The entire tune achieves a nice plateau without ever threatening to tumble over the top.
- And on “To the Moon and Back,” we hear the most Knife-esque tune on the album, complete with bouncy keyboard riffs, a straight-forward pop arrangement, and a decidedly NSFW video:
Listening to these eleven songs proved to be a refreshing sensory experience.