Fever Ray (Rabid – 2009)

This is definitely a product of the Northern Hemisphere.  European.  Grey clouds are commonplace.  There are forests and hill tops.  It’s partly in this landscape that you see it is Europe, northern Europe.  It’s the trees.  Evergreen.  Never aging.  Never young.  There is dew.  There is fog.  In this place there is some trace of humanity and something even older.  A wide space where the opportunity for shelter is welcome for out here, there are elements. While days occur, the dusk, night and dawn are when this area is truly active.  This landscape formed over eons.

Either if it’s The Knife or Fever Ray, it is still her voice that has singular resonance.  Varied pitch and phrasing, technologically twisted altered breath, these are all things we have heard from her before but that doesn’t make them any more familiar.  Why Fever Ray and not the Knife?  This doesn’t matter.  As a single album, and Karin Dreier Andersson has stated in interviews this will be the only Fever Ray record, it has few siblings.  Seemingly an album of pure frequency rather than instrumentation, it’s pacing and stylistic dynamism allow each song an existence entirely individual whilst also being consistent enough that the album hangs together.

As ‘If I Had a Heart’ starts with a lagged loop akin to John Carpenter dystopia theme, the voice, the chant enters.  Everything is in that fog, early morning mist ahead of a grey day. Her voice is octaves lower than it should be.  In this fog it is the music not the voice that is most starkly contrasted against The Knife.  Any sound you might recognise is filtered and pitch bent, separated, realigned, staggered in a new way. Many thin sounds replace what could’ve been drums.  The acoustic guitar in ‘When I Grow Up’ starts out as flourish that becomes a hook and ends as a navigational point amongst some kind of synthesised glockenspiel call and response spread across a number of bars, disorientating you by resetting independently, like wind chimes in a gentle storm.  An unnaturally gentle storm.

Fever Ray/The Knife has been cited as an influence on the emerging, possible scene termed ‘Witch House’.  While this scene and its aesthetics are of no concern here, the term itself is an interesting way into this album.  Some kind of super/preternatural occurrence and state is being reflected. Something unobserved by science.  This sounds like some sort of aching witchcraft either being cast or endured.     She sings in ‘I’m Not Done’, “Some do magic/some do harm”, this power we’re hearing, this strange fairy music, may be fantastic, it may lead us to our deaths. She goes on “Who is the Alpha? How do you say you’re sorry when there’s nothing to be afraid of?”  Genuinely disquietening sounds are layered with references to nature; streams and moss, motherhood, empty streets.  Anesthetic.  Slipping out.  Slipping in.  Twin Peaks has become a cipher for everything ‘weird’, but within Fever Ray you believe it when they say ‘There’s something dark in those woods’.  Simultaneously comforting, lulling and reassuringly melancholic… sleep, be careful, you know what happens when you fall asleep. You’re enjoying chocolate that you just removed from the side of house with Hansel and Gretel. You’re watching from afar and you’re involved.  Is any of this state natural?

Ambient music has become a metaphor for bland.  Trip-hop the byword for dull. Electronica a way to give dance music credibility with academics.  This fits none of these genres.  AOR?  Perhaps.  In the way that ‘Hounds of Love’ is adult orientated rock.  (Not since ‘world music’ has a term been so general).  While Kate Bush comparisons have been easy for some (Fiercely musical? Yes. Latent, subtle pop sensibility? Yes.  By Jove is she a woman too?) The better touchstone would be Peter Gabriel.  The listener’s immediate awareness of the author’s intellect. The rhythms.  The whisper. The layering of the voice. The harmony.  The chorus that just went by and wasn’t a chorus.  This is Solisbury Hill over The Passion.  Melody and disconcertion.

Adam Hiles

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