More than three years have passed since the release of The Knife's masterful goth-trance classic, Silent Shout, and Karin Dreijer Andersson's brother and Knife-partner Olof Dreijer is supposedly hard at work on an opera about Darwin and both have no current plans to record again under the name. But whether the Knife as studio recording artists are indeed finished, Karin's own debut as Fever Ray sounds like a natural successor to Silent Shout's eerie, bleak-night atmospheres given a few years to mature in solitude and wintry, wind-howl places.
Olof's absence means Silent Shout's deeper dance touchstones are largely missing. Much of Fever Ray thins out that album's plumper ends into a bonier brand of minimalism. But that's not to say the record sounds famished; Fever Ray's mid-ends glow pale with plenty of sonic depth and instrumental nuances for headphone lovers. One of European pop's most distinctive voices, Karin has always sounded like a more demented inheritor of yesterday's unusual international pop stylists: Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux, and even Björk. With a such an oddly expressive timbre, she melds well with the album's industrial shading, a soundtrack that sometimes resembles slow acid rot, the wearing away and wilting of things that once grew. Combining quiet pulpy rhythms, cloudy-dawn synths, and sparse guitar patterns, Fever Ray leans heavily on Karin herself. As with the Knife, her voice is often contorted with effects to imbue the record's stern, grey-black atmospheres with a presence at least vaguely "human."
Much of Fever Ray's kinship with The Knife's catalogue emerges in how Karin retains the duo's dark flamboyance and almost Oriental sense of melodic progression and operatics. The rhythms are less emphatic though, designed not to propel so much as to prop up. "Seven" is about as hearty and full as its bottom end manages, and even then its beats feel more elemental than emphatic. As the record's most outwardly melodic song, "Seven" gets louder and more clamorous as it progresses 'til you notice its sudden girth, with trills of synthetic flute and another of Karin's strikingly frigid choruses. With a beat like a child stomping her feet, "Keep the Streets Empty for Me" resembles OMD's spacious dead-factory pop. All dim, quiet guitar and grainy dissonance, the song's as slow to develop as one is to awake in the morning, beautiful, still groggy.
Elsewhere, "I'm Not Done" creeps on a din of bruised noise, its waltzy pacing and shivery synths gaining volume across the track's running length. Gloomy lead single "If I Had a Heart" champions nervous near-silence. Atop see-sawing mechanical tones, sly heartbeat rhythms and a roomful of Karin's altered vocals, "Heart" seems like a tone poem in praise of decay. But for all of its shadows and shapes that shift in the dark, Fever Ray exudes a queer, almost bewitching allure. Whether mere distraction or Karin's future focus, Fever Ray is one of early 2009's best records, and gives us, hopefully, one more Dreijer project to keep our eye on.
Tracklist: Fever Ray - Fever Ray01. If I Had a Heart
02. When I Grow Up
03. Dry & Dusty
05. Triangle Walks
06. Concrete Walls
07. Now's the Only Time I Know
08. I'm Not Done
09. Keep The Streets Empty for Me
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