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Fever Ray – Fever Ray

on January 20, 2009, 3:00pm
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One of 2006’s “It” albums was The Knife’s 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, and—more often than not—danceable. Andersson supplied the vocals for the entire album, but they were so densely layered and pitch-shifted that you wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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 album’s 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, you’ll 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 I’m 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 Andersson’s 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 it’s a carbon copy, but my initial reaction to the single had me wondering whether the album would deviate more from group’s sound. The album answers a defiant “No.” The album is steeped in the sounds of The Knife’s catalogue, from the marimba in “Triangle Walks”, which resembles the Deep Cuts era, to the soft rhythms of “I’m Not Done” that could have been lifted from the band’s debut.

Fever Ray is heavy on repetitive, synthetic beats that create chilly moments that can blur together if you’re not an attentive listener. Unsurprisingly, the standout moments are when the volume turns up a bit and Andersson’s 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 / They’ve said so, it doesn’t 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. “You’ve got cucumbers on your eyes / Too much time spent on nothing” is one of the funnier putdowns I’ve heard in a while. And the water-drop percussion of “Now’s the Only Time I Know” is probably incidentally reminiscent of American Beauty’s score, but it’s still an entertaining backdrop to have against lyrics that describe mundane daily tasks.

Fever Ray is an album for fans of The Knife’s style of music, though I don’t believe every fan will translate into a Fever Ray fan. If you’re open to the sound, I suggest giving it plenty of listens before making up your mind. It’s a flawed release, but the highs undoubtedly redeem the lows. And you’ll get a little scared in the process.

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