Fever Ray’s back! Plunge is bound to be divisive and with good reason; this is Karin Dreijer Andersson’s boldest statement yet, both musically and lyrically.
|Artist: Fever Ray
Album Title: Plunge
Genre: Electronica / Experimental
Label: Rabid / Mute
Good news, you patient Fever Ray fans, you! The long wait for a new album is finally over, reasons to be cheerful as the days get darker and the bitter winter chill sets in your bones. You’d probably imagine there aren’t many artists whose music is a better fit for the season judging from the tone and atmosphere of Fever Ray’s critically acclaimed 2009 self-titled debut, but Karen Dreijer Andersson’s approach to Plunge scales down the ethereal environment she usually crafts for a much more direct, brutal sound.
Plunge is far more of a stand-up-and-take-notice record than Fever Ray as much of that record’s subtly and spaciousness is replaced with bold sounds and loud statements. It’s a musical version of Tom Ford’s obnoxious introduction to 2016’s Nocturnal Animals, where large, naked models dance gratuitously in slow motion. Not all of the intricacies are lost as the production is far from bare bones and tracks like Falling and Mustn’t Hurry give the listener some much needed breathing space, with the latter track in particular attempting to engulf you in its shaded, watery soundscape, nodding to acts like The Books. For the most part, however, this album is shouted at you rather than whispered. The instrumentals are bombastic and fast-paced, the vocals spat scathingly, the lyrics unflinching.
As a result of Fever Ray’s new artistic statement on Plunge the craftsmanship behind the tracks has a discernible live feel, which is a welcome change to the standardised meticulous, cold, and calculated sound to the instrumentals of many of her contemporaries within the sphere of Electronica. It would be completely misguided to call this a warm album though, in the way that much of Andersson’s work with The Knife could be characterised, with many of the instrumentals attempting to throw you off kilter. The sparseness of the production on ‘IDK About You’ does a total disservice to the vocals, thrusting them into an awkward, clumsy limelight. The tribal percussion saves this track from being a total write-off and when it re-emerges on closer ‘Mama’s Hand’ it’s welcome. A lot of the percussion, however, is incredibly iffy, light but lifeless, with the odd moment of genius like the trembles and rattles that introduce ‘Wanna Sip’.
There are plenty of moments on this album that feel like having the inside of your cranium scraped with dentist’s tools. The out of tune bleeps and deliberately jarring vocals of ‘This Country’ may be interesting and disquieting, but in a way that makes you really not want to ever listen to it again. Third track, ‘A Part of Us’ is even worse; splodgey, haphazard and inaccessible. These songs are offset by instrumental tracks like ‘Plunge’, which are steady but surprisingly non-descript. It’s not really the dichotomy I’d imagine Andersson was going for…
One of the more admirable qualities is the lyrics, the central crux of a record geared towards boldness, which go some way to explaining Andersson’s new musical direction. Her sentiments are sex-related but never sexy, with frank statements that uncomfortably read like the sex crimes currently being reported with horrific frequency in the news. It’s the first album to echo and address the newly examined sordid abuses of power in the top echelons of western society, signalling a cultural response which at this point is overdue.
The word “admirable” is pretty crucial here. Respect is due to Fever Ray for the fresh approach which demands your attention from start to finish. It’s just a shame the pieces of the jigsaw fit so clumsily together.