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earinfluxion

13 December 2017

Fever
Ray: Plunge (Rabid)

Karin
Dreijer once again goes solo for her second album as Fever Ray. When
her first appeared in 2009, it was the apex of my enthusiasm for The
Knife, and I was both excited and disappointed by it. It had all the
calling cards of Dreijer’s sensibility — her odd, needling voice,
gloomy arrangements, almost entirely electronic — but it was
lacking the magic. I wondered if her brother Olof’s techno
influences, which come through much clearer on his solo releases as
Oni Ayhun, somehow tempered her otherworldiness in ways that made
their music together feel more special. But with Plunge, while she’s
not necessarily diving into completely unfamiliar waters, there is
something there that wasn’t before: the magic. She’s turned her focus
from the inward to the outward, taking on themes of sexual
repression, liberation, gender fluidity, feminism, globalism, and
oppression in ways that are often genuinely disarming. The pacing of
Plunge is especially well conceived. While she released “To the
Moon and Back” as the lead and obvious single, it doesn’t appear
til over halfway through the album, and it’s by far the most
accessible song here. So those who were intrigued or seduced by that
infectious single are put through their paces taking in Dreijer’s
themes and more leftfield approach that often touches on the tribal
abrasion of The Knife’s last sprawling double-album, Shaking the
Habitual
(2013), or more confrontational, plodding, weirder fare. The
same rousing tribal touches find their way into “IDK About You,”
the most up-tempo of the bunch, with Dreijer sounding almost strained
on it, like she really indeed is trying to convince herself as you
repeats the title statement. Some of the album falls back into the
more languid synthy grooves of her debut, particularly “Mustn’t
Hurry” (one of my personal favorites) and “Red Trails.” Her
collaboration with Tami T, “A Part of Us,” is another slow
melodic one, straddling the cohesion of her debut against the
anthemic tendencies of The Knife at their pop-sharpest. But the
center of the album is really where it soars, starting with the
frenetic energy of “IDK About You” and proceeding into the
aggressive sloganeering of “This Country,” her most overt attack
on oppression and moralist conservatives: “Tell me something sexy
and I’ll log off my whatever / Gag me, awake my fighting spirit /
Take your time and stay off the channels / We’re not attracted to
this country’s standards.” Later in it she repeats her final
attack: “This country makes it hard to fuck!” She very smartly
follows it up with the languid instrumental title track, over five
and a half minutes of melodic grooves that recall The Knife’s Silent
Shout
and even nod to her brother’s instrumental material.

Only then
does she serve up “To the Moon and Back,” and, presumably, most
existing fans heard that track first before the album’s full release.
It’s perfectly positioned after she’s rather fully and firmly made
her point as a bit of pop appeal and relief, even as its lyrics
maintain a similar position: “First I take you then you take me /
Breathe some life into a fantasy / Your lips, warm and fuzzy / I want
to run my fingers up your pussy.” It’s the bright and sex-positive
response to the confrontational call that much of the front of the
album serves up, and it feels perfect. The final stretch of tracks
feels almost like an epilogue after that glorious build-up and
climax, but “An Itch” is a pretty solid track in its galloping
stride and canned orchestra hits and another appeal to sensuality:
“An itch that started to follow me / The sensation would cut in a
sister / Imagine: Touched by somebody who loves you.” “Mama’s
Hand” works well as a closing cut, a cleaner slice of steady
electronica that feels like a streamlined companion to the earlier
title track. Refreshingly, its 11 tracks go by quickly, the album
clocking in around 47 minutes. She both sounds entirely in her own
comfort zone as much as she’s pushing herself forward, and it’s nice
to hear her covering a pretty good variety at the same time. I find
myself coming back to it over and over, holding the same unusual
magnetism that has fueled the strongest and most lasting material of
The Knife. A sure contender for my favorite of the year.

Buy it: Plunge

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