The party line about The Knife’s landmark 2006 album Silent Shout was that it was a “scary” album. From the imagery of the Swedish duo’s odd, theatrical masks to their low, rumbling synths, to their ransom call voice masking, it was an unsettling set for sure. Nonetheless, it is a dance record, and for all its dramatic darkness, it encompassed just as much hedonistic revelry as heebies and jeebies. I even brought it with me on a trip to Curaçao, though my fiancee found it an odd choice to soundtrack our vacation. I don’t think we ever listened to it on our trip to the island, but dancing to “We Share Our Mother’s Health” still wouldn’t have been entirely out of the question.
Fever Ray, the solo project of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, is a different story altogether. It’s not a dance record, at least not much of it. And it’s not so much flashily eerie as it is melancholy and brooding. If Silent Shout was a Transylvanian house party in a thunderstorm, Fever Ray’s self-titled debut is its rainy day hangover, resigned, but still reminiscent of the prior evening’s festivities. As such, its softened textures and slowed BPMs makes it a much prettier record, rife with haunting atmosphere and delicate melodies.
Ominousness is still part of Fever Ray’s modus operandi, as evident in sinister leadoff track “If I Had a Heart.” A looping drone lays a swampy foundation for a slithering melody, underscoring Dreijer Andersson’s alternately erotic and melancholy lyrics: “More, give me more, give me more…if I had a heart I could love you/ If I had a voice I could sing.” Its structure deviates little from its minimalistic path, but her less-is-more take is dazzling in its simplicity. “When I Grow Up” is a bit lighter, and recalls Kate Bush in its big, ambient pop sound. Here, Dreijer Andersson reverts to a childlike viewpoint, dreaming about a “funny man with dog eyes and a hanging tongue.”
With “Seven,” a more upbeat, dance-oriented sound returns, albeit with slight tropical textures, though its cryptic lyrics suggest something darker—”A box to open up with light and sound/ and if you don’t/ you’re on your own.” Tracks like “Now’s The Only Time I Know” and “Keep The Streets Empty For Me” display a melodic gentleness that strikes a sharp contrast against the harsh, primitive electronic crash of Silent Shout. “I’m Not Done” has a particularly elegant sound, with ethereal synths floating across a waltz of claps, ultimately building up into a climax of layered vocals and metallic guitar ornamentation.
The album closes with the epic, seven-minute “Coconut,” a stunning dirge that bears no resemblance whatsoever to Harry Nilsson’s quirky classic. It moves at a slow pace, inching toward the halfway point at which Dreijer Andersson’s vocals finally can be heard. It’s a fitting conclusion to the album which, at 48 minutes, isn’t exceptionally long, but takes its time coursing through each track. It’s the journey that makes it exciting, though. While there are few notable climaxes, each track slowly opens up and reveals more intricate details. While each song may come to an end just as the listener can behold its full glory, that glimpse is more than worth the voyage.
Video: “If I Had a Heart”