Fever Ray, the bespectacled star of 2009’s creepiest cover art, is actually an alias for Karin Dreijer Andersson — half of the Swedish brother-sister electronic duo The Knife. She’s been prepping her eponymous solo debut since The Knife finished touring Silent Shout in 2007, and the result is akin to that work in tone and polish. But where Silent Shout pulsed and pounded, Fever Ray rumbles and creeps — sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.
Lead single and opener “If I Had a Heart” features Dreijer Andersson’s trademark severely detuned vocal from the outset. But instead of floating above jittery synth arpeggios and 8-bit drums, it slogs through a murky drone. At this viscous pace, the effect is something much more grotesque than anything on Silent Shout. The detuning process amplifies Dreijer Andersson’s wet glottal smacks before each phrase, enhancing the anamorphic ugliness of her character. Think less Sigourney as Zuul or Angelina as Grendel’s mother and more androgynous Jabba the Hutt.
Dreijer Andersson’s songwriting method is notably passive in that she lets the songs develop in an organic fashion — they almost write themselves. The effect on the listener is mesmerizing. One could imagine Fever Ray as a siren song seducing the listener into the clutches of the opening track’s creature, that is if her voice were more alluring.
Like many of The Knife’s compositions, Dreijer Andersson’s less-processed voice shares verses with her detuned counterpart on several of these tracks. Whereas the deeper character occupies the same low register as the album’s mechanical foley drones and rolling-boil synths, Dreifer Andersson’s “natural” voice is less at home in some of these compositions than when accompanied by her brother Olof’s frenzied arpeggios in The Knife.
“Seven” begins with potential to truly rise above the tumult, moving with momentum behind one of the most focused vocal melodies on the album. However, Dreijer Andersson’s nasal, Björkian squeal struggles to carry the entire track, which at times sounds too much like the Blue Man Group or what I imagine a Cirque de Soleil musical interlude would sound like.
Standout “Triangle Walks” corrects the issue by simply dropping Fever Ray slightly in the mix behind a denser backing track and counter-melody. So many of these cuts want to break loose from their parabolic dynamic curves and predictable song structures and do something unexpected, something… dynamic. Closer “Coconut” maintains the same structure, but at least shuffles its parts into enough configurations to keep the listener guessing until the end. The sonic palette of the track is the most cohesive on the album, and yet it remains totally complex and fresh.
While one can hardly argue with Dreijer Andersson’s impeccable taste for texture and color and beautiful arrangements, her compositions are quite objectively predictable and often fall flat. Too many critics will write this slight off as merely an attempt to contrast the manic composition of Silent Shout, which it certainly does — there are more pants-pissingly awesome moments in that album’s title track than are even attempted on Fever Ray.
Though it may not be completely fair to compare the two albums, it’s justifiable enough considering that all lot of people who will buy this album already love Silent Shout, and have been measuring everything to its standard since the album’s release in 2006. It’s difficult to recommend Fever Ray to anyone who doesn’t already like Silent Shout, but even more difficult not to warn those who do. (Rabid Records, 2009)
By Jonathan Lemmons