Despite the massive acclaim, I didn’t like Silent Shout by The Knife initially; something about the production put me off, the density of it. I know it’s meant to be oppressive and strange, but it’s also meant to be pop, or catchy at the least, and the weight of the sound, the saturation of it, made me take against Silent Shout at first. I’ve grown to like it more over the years, and feel like I’m probably just half a dozen plays away from really, really liking it now.
But the debut solo album by one half of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson, clicked with me straight away, even though some people consider it to be even weirder, more oppressive, more unnerving and obtuse. The beats are less directly dance-oriented, the synthesisers and electronics more about atmosphere than about hooks, and, crucially for my ears, the production opens up, explores space and textural richness, and in doing so creates an almost tangibly beautiful landscape for Dreijer’s strange songs.
Because the songs on Fever Ray’s eponymous debut are nothing if not strange, concerned with the oddness of domesticity, observations and tales about both childhood and motherhood, lyrics about watering neighbours’ plants, about dishwasher tablets, about riding bicycles. Dreijer sings of living “between concrete walls / in my arms she felt so warm”, presumably a reference to her new status as a parent when she recorded the album.
In some ways, Fever Ray’s album is like a weird cousin of Kate Bush’s Aerial, an album concerned with washing machines and children and maintaining sensuality despite (or because of?) these intrusions on adult life. But, as ever, I’m not focussing on the lyrics, as strange and beguiling as Dreijer’s vignettes may be: I’m taking in the pure sound of it. The slow-burning, thrumming introduction of “If I Had A Heart”; the beautiful final third of “When I Grow Up”, synths and guitars intertwining like lovers; the sparse, crepuscular vistas of “Keep The Streets Empty For Me”; and Karin’s vocals throughout, digitised, filtered, altered, made massive, cavernous, android and unreal even as she sings about the most mundanely human topics possible.
Fever Ray is an incredible debut, an incredible record, the kind of thing that rewards attention and only gets better over time. I like it more than any single thing by the renowned group it’s an offshoot of, to the extent that thinking of it as a side-project, or solo excursion, seems ridiculous.