One of 2006s “It” albums was The Knifes Silent Shout. Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, the Swedish siblings who make up the acclaimed outfit, combined forces for a fourth studio album that was sterile, scary, andmore often than notdanceable. Andersson supplied the vocals for the entire album, but they were so densely layered and pitch-shifted that you wouldnt expect any sort of human being to be the culprit.
As with any critical darling, Silent Shout was either the kind of album you fell head-over-electronic-heels for, or you just didnt understand why everyone was lusting after these monotonous songs. As someone who has etched every pulsating moment of Silent Shout into his brain, I can only say that the albums result matched its ambition. It wanted to give you chills, make you dance, and even make you smirk on occasion.
Now, Andersson has released her own album under the nom de plume Fever Ray. The self-titled debut raises a lot of questions and only answers a few. Think of it as Lost with a Swedish accent. In the span of 10 songs, youll probably wonder: How did Andersson get to be so creepy? Why is this not a The Knife album? What do these songs even mean? If Im so scared, why am I tapping my foot?
Fever Ray is a strange album in its best moments and an uneven one in its worst. The opener and lead single, If I Had a Heart, is the high point of the collection, and I feel confident that it will be one of the best singles of 2009. A repetitive synth beat whirs in the background as Anderssons filtered voice laments, If I had a heart I could love you / If I had a voice I would sing. The result is a four-minute dirge that bemoans inadequacy as much as it professes love.
Perhaps the most notable quality of If I Had a Heart is its similarity to some of the quieter tracks on Silent Shout, particularly From Off to On. Not that its a carbon copy, but my initial reaction to the single had me wondering whether the album would deviate more from groups sound. The album answers a defiant No. The album is steeped in the sounds of The Knifes catalogue, from the marimba in Triangle Walks, which resembles the Deep Cuts era, to the soft rhythms of Im Not Done that could have been lifted from the bands debut.
Fever Ray is heavy on repetitive, synthetic beats that create chilly moments that can blur together if youre not an attentive listener. Unsurprisingly, the standout moments are when the volume turns up a bit and Anderssons voice shifts from indifferent to passionate. Seven is one of the few tracks where she sounds as if her yearning is being suffocated by the voice filters. As she sings, I know it, I think I know it from a hymn / Theyve said so, it doesnt need more explanation, you hear humanity being quelled by technology in a fascinating way. If only we had more of these moments.
Undoubtedly Fever Ray relies on nuance, and having spun the album a few dozen times has revealed some quirkier moments than I caught on first listen. Youve got cucumbers on your eyes / Too much time spent on nothing is one of the funnier putdowns Ive heard in a while. And the water-drop percussion of Nows the Only Time I Know is probably incidentally reminiscent of American Beautys score, but its still an entertaining backdrop to have against lyrics that describe mundane daily tasks.
Fever Ray is an album for fans of The Knifes style of music, though I dont believe every fan will translate into a Fever Ray fan. If youre open to the sound, I suggest giving it plenty of listens before making up your mind. Its a flawed release, but the highs undoubtedly redeem the lows. And youll get a little scared in the process.