Review Summary: The Knife's Karin Dreijer Anderson has created one of the best albums of the year so far.
After spending many years working with her brother Olof in the popular, award-winning electro-duo The Knife, Karin Dreijer Anderson decided to start a solo project named Fever Ray. The Knife are currently on hiatus, and this solo adventure couldn’t be more desired right now. But for anyone who is expecting a solo record that sounds exactly like her past projects, you better stop here. Fever Ray
is in no way “the next Knife album.” It is in fact a spooky, enthralling, and otherworldly set of songs that, for most, you couldn’t even tap your foot to.
On Fever Ray
, Anderson pens lyrics that are miles more personal than she did for The Knife. Gone are the “I could *** your brains out!” of “Rock Classics,” and the indecipherable cryptic words of “Silent Shout.” Instead, Anderson has melded the two together to create a highly introspective piece of work. Lyrics like “Your hand... My hand... Fit so... Nicely” would have never appeared on a past Knife record, and if they had you probably wouldn’t even have it register in your head that it was such a soft and sweet line. That line comes from the third track, “Dry And Dusty,” which is a definite highlight here. It’s a song detailing the fragility and simpicity of existence, (“Dry and dusty / We are capsules of energy”). On her solo outing, she is so much more human, despite all the vocal affectations.
Which, speaking of those, there are plenty. Brilliant opener “If I Had a Heart” starts with an eerily glacial drone that loops throughout the whole song. Anderson disguises her voice in one of those software programs she is so fond of. If any element of past Knife records shows up here, it is most definitely the vocal transformations. “Concrete Walls” makes such deep use of that technology, as she sings “I live between concrete walls / In my arms she was so warm” with a low husky multi-part harmony. It’s a great affect, making the song a lot more claustrophobic as she explains the enclosing feeling of transitioning into and through motherhood.
Despite all the vocal affectations though, as stated before, she never once loses her humanity. On Knife favorites like “Heartbeats” and “You Take My Breath Away,” her voice has been less changed than on the more obscure ones like “She’s Having a Baby” or “From Off to On.” But there’s always been a deliberate distancing between us and Anderson. She saunters just close enough to our ears for us to be drawn into her magic. However, on Fever Ray
, you find yourself more drawn to her than ever. These songs are much more naked than her past songs. That’s not to say there’s a meager number of interesting musical and technological tricks employed. The icy whir of “When I Grow Up” that takes over during the instrumental break marks one of the most accessible and more fun moments on the record. The handful of different stories on “Seven” are set against a slightly tropical-tinged sheet of sound, making its five minutes seem like three. And "Now's the Only Time I Know" is the most "poppy" number on here. She’s still got her sensibility, she just is using it in a different way.
Anderson is at her best on songs like “Keep the Streets Empty for Me,” which is the best thing here, and probably the most beautiful thing she’s ever written. There’s a loop-based drone in the background, which creates a skeletally minimal backing for her lyrics. Her voice is less altered here than it’s ever been, and she mournfully sings lines such as “I’m laying down eating snow / My fur is hot my tongue is cold / On a bed of spider webs / I think of how to change myself.” It’s the most somnambulant moment on the record, and it sways through your psyche like a brilliant and soft lullaby. “Take me home before the storm / Velvet mites will keep us warm,” is one of the best couplets, exemplifying Anderson’s newfound love for lyrics are heartfelt and relatable.
Karin Dreijer Anderson has made a name of herself in the independent music world with The Knife, and has actually become an icon of sorts for the electro scene. Now she is turning the tables a bit with this spooky, ghostly, sparse, but ultimately delectable and truly beautiful offering. That is what makes Fever Ray
such a shocking surprise. I don’t think anyone was expecting something so slow and introverted as this. That doesn’t render it any less interesting though, and this is one of the best albums of the year so far.