Although one would be hard pressed to imagine membership in the Knife creatively restricting, some spontaneous urge obviously got its filigreed fingers around the neck of Karin Dreijer Andersson one-half of the Magick Brother/Magick Sister electro duo. And while the Knife dazzle and horrify with creeping, pounding, industrial rhythms (parts of the Knife's last album reminded me of early Skinny Puppy), tandem, off-kilter vocals, and a visual image straight out of “Eyes Wide Shut,” Fever Ray is a different type of spellbinding. Created, as she says, in a state of mostly complete solitude in a small studio over eight months during banker's hours, it's seemingly more organic and naturalist. Moss and jade leaves grow between the synthesizer keys. The music is just this close to being new age in terms of ambience and a sense of inner calm, though the sounds are tweaked and warped enough to keep it wayyyy off the radar of Enya fans. and Andersson's vocals take the center stage, still either slowed down to an androgyne crawl or a sharp, distorted incantatory tone that insinuates into your inner ear.
Instead of the implied threats and subliminal violence of Andersson’s day job, as Fever Ray she sings straight from the stream of subconsciousness, talking about dream visions, hopes, everyday banalities like "talking on the telephone to a friend about dish soap” without even one word seeming trite. Indeed it's weirdly profound and comforting. The pacing is languid. Lazy hand drums, handclaps and ticktock-machine clocks are cut through with bell-like synth tones and gleaming sound knives. The songs are carefully constructed in that way that seems so offhand and spontaneous. The overall effect of the “Fever Ray” album is dazzling, weird, choked-up beauty. Highlights include “Dry and Dusty’s” slo-mo vocal torch with sunburst synths, “Seven's” Italo disco-goes-native kitchen sink drama and evil-Kate-Bush vocals, “Triangle Walks’” evocation of classic Depeche Mode-chanson collages, “Now's the Only Time I Know’s” labyrinthine woodblock echoes, “Keep the Streets Empty for Me’s" orchestrated electronic hum and echo, like a pillow for her most straightforwardly beautiful vocals yet. "Morning keeps the streets empty," she sighs.
Enterprising musicians are going to be ripping off the tricks on this album in no time flat.
- Matthew Moyer