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Fever Ray “Fever Ray” Review

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Fever Ray Album Review

It took over half a decade of creating music together as the Knife before the brother-sister duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer performed in public. Their attempts at removing focus on the individual are as notorious as they are futile. They decided to wear masks when promoting and performing their music, which simply added to the mystique. They boycotted award shows because of gender inequality, and that just attracted attention for being selfless. Combine such acts with an unending creative brilliance and you can see the dilemma; how does one maintain artistic direction when attempting to avoid the unintentional and undesirable effect of celebrity or fame?

Apparently the answer for the Dreijers was to take a few years off, re-brand themselves through personal projects and hope that the hyperbole and acclaim would start to take a back seat to the music. While Olaf’s electronic opera is still a ways off, Karen’s album under the Fever Ray guise reflects a slight evolution from the Knife: it is an immensely satisfying, comparatively accessible album that isn’t far from the Knife in that it uniquely (and successfully, mind you) straddles genres and sounds honest in doing so.

Unlike the album that garnered the Knife six Grammi awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys), and countless “best album” honors, Fever Ray sounds less sharp. Not necessarily smooth, just not as angular as Silent Shout. With Fever Ray, Dreijer continues to electronically extend a gothic sound beyond its comfort zone, offering the cold, empty genre a sense of humanity and care. And in doing so, she maintains the androgynous, often ghostly vocals that characterize the Knife; but Dreijer seems less anonymous in doing so, offering a refreshing tone that reclaims a bit of humanity from the mechanical-sounding lyrics.

Fever Ray is ridden with icy, hollow beats that distinguish its songs from such modern electronic acts as Justice, Diplo, or MSTRKRFT. The album is at times cold and remote — probably as close to honest goth as music might get in today’s transparent mallternative culture. Rather than digging deep for belly-moans, Dreijer accompanies the music with tones both entirely familiar and hauntingly alien. Her range seems less restricted throughout, sounding shrill with “I’m Not Done,” emotional with “Triangle Walks,” seductive with “Now’s The Only Time I Know,” and demonic with “Dry & Dusty.” Despite the shifting tones and techniques, it’s often the words behind them that suggest a different focus within Dreijer’s music.

“When I grow up I want to live near the sea/Crab claws and bottles of rum, that’s what I’ll have/Staring at a seashell, waiting for it to embrace me,” groans Dreijer in the album’s second single, “When I Grow Up.” Such personal emotion throughout the album is reflected within the tone of the vocals; that’s where Fever Ray sounds less rigid than the Knife. “If I had a heart I could love you/If I had a voice I would sing” bellows Dreijer through a foreign, robot-like voice typical to the vocal stylings of the Knife, but the heart beneath the song struggles through, and instead of coming off as a monster breathing through a human, with Fever Ray she sounds like a human trapped within a monster’s body.

Despite being built on the Knife’s minimalist foundation, Fever Ray is as complete and unquestionably heavier than anything the duo has created up to this point. Whereas Dreijer was once a faceless mechanism in a creative machine that produced some of the past decade’s most breathtaking music, her songs now embody a feeling of humanity despite sounding, at times, anything but human. “I think it’s very important to separate the person behind the word from the music,” Dreijer reflected recently. But the polarizing ideology is no longer black and white, and if there is to be another album from the Knife it will likely reflect something closer to Fever Ray; music that is almost entirely unique, but music warped by a billowing sense of humanity and graciousness that is no longer being suppressed below its surface.