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Fever Ray – Plunge

Rabid Records

Fever Ray - Plunge

The surprise announcement and immediate drop of a new Fever Ray album is some of the most exciting news all year. (Though it’s digital only today — you will have to wait until February 2018 to get a physical copy). And oh boy, it’s been a long time- – the magnificent first album from Karin Dreijer’s solo project appeared eight years ago, so to hear new music from her again is wonderful.

The press release for Plunge on Fever Ray’s website is so sumptuous, so gorgeously written (seriously – read it) that it almost seems perfunctory to review the record. But if an artist knows her work then she also has space for her audience and our responses, and so here I have condensed mine

As caught as we are in the midst of tumultuous societal shifts, I do love how things work now. Yes, the world is upside down, but the fact that Fever Ray can release a new album with less than twenty-four hours notice and it be the BEST thing all year fills me with fresh optimism.

Before I even hear the album, I’m mesmerised by the video for “To the Moon and Back” — a meditation on sexuality, womanhood and fame, and on the machine and the machinery of being. The video offers an uncomfortable fable — a science fiction Alice In Wonderland where the Frankensteinish Dreijer presides over the growth of her clone/progeny in a Matrix-style vat and then proceeds to induct this new being into a sex game / tea party complete with golden shower. Of course I am watching through the veil of recent news stories, but the imagery echoes with the disconcerting; the body incubated and re-animated into something desirable. It is all very David Cronenberg-esque and also slightly reminiscent of The Cure (the monster / slave Karin’s make-up is a dead ringer for a (bald) Robert Smith).

Karin Dreijer made her first Fever Ray album in the wake of new motherhood and explored the roles and relationships that shift when identity is so radically changed. In the intervening eight years between the first album and Plunge, what has happened? Well, I guess she has really been “busy working like crazy”, because Plunge is as polished, accomplished and delightful as it is disconcerting and discomfiting.

To write about the music without attending to the social context seems impossible. Of course, the motifs of Fever Ray and (Dreijer’s former work with her brother as) The Knife’s musicality are all present — close-quartered beaty electro / techno, heavy use of pentatonic scale, unconventional rhythm and clean synth sounds that refuse to quit, all infused with a soothing quality in spite of its raw edges, delving into a wealth of electronica influences that fuse melody with the discordant soundscapes and a refusal to conform.

If the edges of this record are harder than before or the lyrics challenging in a more direct way, this is good to my mind. If Karin Dreijer’s urgent messages to us through her sonic effusions are more important than what is happening in the news, then this too is good. It is not enough to be passive consumer, it is necessary to listen, to find in oneself a medium that makes space for the messages. They are urgent messages and this now is reality.

On Plunge there is to be found real diversity; an alternative to the confines of a system that asks us to put music (and therefore all art and all people) in a box with a label on it and file it away in a fusty hall of identical boxes. This commitment to be what she is and make what she makes is a feature I have always admired about Dreijer’s work. Compromise is not an option. Lyrically, Dreijer plays with the listener like a cat with a mouse; she reels us in with hypnotic rhythms and lush synths, all the while crooning for us to listen deeper, to plunge into the depths where what might appear obvious metaphors twist towards the shocking and visceral.

Particular highlights for me are the beat-heavy esoterica of the opener “Wanna Sip”, the instrumental techno-lushness of the title track, which is signature Fever Ray; pentatonics, synths and rhythms that bring you home, gorgeously contrasting with the mysticism of “Red Trails”, an opulent concoction of rhythm and strings, and so much more which brings a sense of a wider musical reach, an opening out towards the places too often ignored. But really, every track is worthy of high praise.

Plunge, if anything, is a nostalgic record that is looking squarely at the world as it is right now; that is absolutely of its time. It manages to simultaneously reference all of electronic music history whilst still being something utterly new and invigorating, to encapsulate the uneasy relationships we have with our identity in this new now that is occurring.

At the heart of this mesmerising record is music to move to as much as it is to be heard; a total body experience, rendered raw and urgent. Fever Ray is science fiction romanticism and Plunge is a literal dive into the murky places of the sexual and the metaphysical experiences of twenty-first century beings. It asks us, if everything is available, then how do we decide what to have? What to prioritise?

If we can be whatever we want, how do we know who we are?

-Arwen Xaverine-

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