Review Summary: Destroy nuclear, destroy boring.
The last time Karin Dreijer Andersson recorded solo material under her Fever Ray moniker was a couple years removed from the release of Silent Shout
, her most recent album with The Knife. She had just given birth to her second child, and was struggling with post-partum depression. Those personal and artistic circumstances led her to craft Fever Ray
, one of the most hauntingly gorgeous albums in recent memory. She borrowed aesthetic and thematic elements from the dark but still frequently danceable electronica of Silent Shout
and placed them in a more intimate context that perfectly captured the emotional root of her experiences.
That was eight years ago. The Knife is now defunct, and before disbanding they had evolved far beyond Silent Shout
, exploring more experimental territories on Tomorrow, In a Year
and Shaking the Habitual
. The duo also became more unabashedly political on the latter album, exploring issues of gender and sexuality, economic inequality, and the nuclear family unit. So while on her sophomore solo album, Plunge
, Fever Ray again borrows elements from the most recent album by The Knife and recontextualizes them, it makes sense that the end result would be strikingly different from her debut.
Both sonically and thematically, Plunge
resembles Shaking the Habitual
more than Fever Ray
, taking several pages from the former’s experiments in the dissonant and percussive and continuing its examination of gender and sexual themes. Whereas Fever Ray
transformed the catchiness of Silent Shout
into something more subtle and tranquil, Plunge
recontextualizes Shaking the Habitual
by condensing that heady, oft-droning behemoth of an album down to something much more visceral and immediate. Thus, most of the tracks on Plunge
are simultaneously catchy and abrasive, from the sirens and handclaps of “Wanna Sip,” to the frantic drums of “IDK About You,” to the discordant synths and static hisses of “This Country,” to the orchestra hits and distorted vocals of “An Itch.”
This straightforward approach allows each song to cut straight to the emotional core of the sexual themes that the lyrics explore. “Falling” embodies the shameful feelings that queer desire can elicit in a heteronormative world, crying, “She’s making me feel dirty again.” “This Country” flashes the societal taboos that surround sexuality a defiant sneer, asserting, “That’s not how to love me.” “To the Moon and Back” is downright gleeful in the explicit desires it expresses: “I want to ram my fingers up your pu
ssy.” Here, Andersson abandons the borderline academic lyrical tone of Shaking the Habitual
's “Full of Fire” and finds the personal in the political.
Yet, as successful as these bold, assertive songs are (and they are), Fever Ray’s greatest talent still lies in more subdued tracks like “Mustn’t Hurry” and “Mama’s Hand,” which contain enough negative space to allow beautiful nuances to truly blossom. “Red Trails” steps back to permit a trembling violin to take center stage, resulting in one of the best tracks of Andersson’s career. Had the entire album been made up of tracks like these, it might have been even better than its predecessor. But clearly, Fever Ray isn’t interested in simply replicating the sound of her debut, and honestly, that’s great. Her desire to evolve and expand to new frontiers has still yielded a daring, enthralling album, and her career will likely continue to surprise and excite us for years to come.