After the success of their third album 'Silent Shout', The Knife have taken time out, presumably to take a creative break from each other. Though they've recently been commissioned to write an opera. What Olof Dreijer has been individually doing we know not, but his sister Karin Dreijer Andersson, newly married, gave birth, and has followed that major life event with this solo project - Fever Ray. This impressive debut album bears some of the hallmarks of what Karin Dreijer Andersson brought to 'The Knife', an introspective, and distinctly North European electronic ambiance. Though there is something altogether more earthly and pagan going on here, as if you're hearing a shaman's incantations carried to you by an arctic wind, barely visible in the bleak Swedish half light. Quite what the subjects of the songs are, is not always lyrically clear, it works more on the level of a sequence of moods, these collectively explore a musical landscape that is isolated, with an all pervading sense of an individual alone with her personal demons, internal and external.
Dreijer distorts her voice to create a mood of underlying menace, her altered vocal tone bringing an edginess to it. You can rarely sit easily with a song, never mindlessly hum along. She appears to be using the sense of gender ambiguity this creates ( is this voice masculine or feminine? ) in a similar manner to the performance artist Laurie Anderson. In fact Anderson is one of Fever Ray's nearest musical antecedents, particularly on tracks like, Concrete Walls and Coconut. Search out Anderson's 'United States' mega performance piece from the eighties (its available on Spotify) and hear for yourself. The Knife, have often crossed over into what is performance art territory, with some distinctly Lynchian aspects appearing in the videos to their songs. Fever Ray,however, have an even more accentuated sombre tone, the humour is darker, it moves from the mundane to the sublime within the space of a sentence. As on the track 'Seven', where Dreijer sings:-
'I leave home at seven. Under a heavy sky, I ride my bike up, I ride my bike down.' - 'Accompany me by the kitchen sink. We talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets, illness, and we dream about heaven.'
Anderson and Dreijer are somewhat kindred, both exploring the different ways we experience alienation within modern urban life. For all our improved means of communication and hi-tec gadgetry, our closeness becoming more attenuated, our remoteness from each other to only grow worse. On 'Concrete Walls', even becoming a mother seems to have isolated Dreijer, abandoned to the demands of her child, with whom she cannot yet converse, her own young child is not always the sort of stimulation she seeks or needs:-
'I live between concrete walls. when I took her up she was so warm. I live between concrete walls. In my arms she was so warm. Eyes are open and mouth cries. Haven't slept since summer. Oh how I try. I leave the TV on, and the radio.'
But then we are contrary beings, we want individual autonomy, yet wonder why we feel lonely. The more we spend our lives on our own, the harder it becomes to accommodate other people into it. The crowds in the streets, become a nightmare, a threat, we wish everyone would just go away, so we can remain untroubled by the presence of others. Dreijer's lyrics hint at an underlying fear lurking in the existential core of this:-
'Whispering. morning keep the streets empty for me. Uncover our heads and reveal our souls. We were hungry before we were born.'
We are starving, we crave food, yet refuse to eat what's offered to us. It's as though a subtle fever, slowly overtaking us, has suppressed our appetite for everything that provides human sustenance. Fever Ray explores this alienated split in human nature, it can be quite a moving experience to listen to. It displays a maturity and breadth very few artists are able, or would dare, to attempt on their first outing.
'This will never end cause I want more. More give me more give me more.'