Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review: "Fever Ray" (The Knife)


Depicted below is a cat-scan of the human head - your head - stacked, tomographic slices , resembling some sort of a biological card-trick, perhaps? Notice the absence of colors, a redundancy in this sort of imaging. It's no accident as well, that this black-and white image would veer towards the black side of the scale, and neither is it's calming, rhythmic pulse.

Why I use this rather addictive gif to illustrate The Knife's Karin Dreijer's solo debut, under the monicker "Fever Ray" (and not the original art-work which did not meet ZA/UM's standards) is that it shares all the traits and characterestics common to a certain kind of music - regretfully summarized as of dark electronica. It doesn´t really matter, which of the following is in your playlist: Depeche Mode circa "Ultra", Massive Attack's "Mezzanine", Burials "Untrue" or The Knife's previous offering, "Silent Shout, some variation of this image is always playing in your head. I also use it because it looks cool. But I would rather have it illustrate said previous album - "Silent Shout" from The Knife. Because it's better. And let's make this as blunt as possible: "Fever Ray" is as much of a Knife album as "Silent Shout" was. It's solo-ness comes down to it not being quite as diverse (or as good) as SS.

The blologosphere and the hipster opinion it represents, has been kind to The Knife since annoyingly indie online music-magazine Pitchfork announced "Silent Shout" "Greatest Album of 2006". And even before that, when this Swedish brother-sister due released their breakthrough album "Deep Cuts" and this acoustic guitar wielding blog-favourite covered their single "Heartbeats" into a dripping piece of doodo. For a car-commercial. With bouncing, colorful balls. This alone would be reason enough not to buy into the hype, but it would also be doing yourself - I assume you like at least some measure of light-absorbing, electronic music - a great disfavor. The Knife is by far the most note-worthy entry to this decade's electronic pop scene. Even a passing interest in Ladytron or Björk for example, means it's time for you to set your sights to the Queen. If you haven't done so before.

It's a custom for these kinds of tomographic groups to use female vocals, because, I guess they purvey a sense of otherworldlyness. And this is what electronic music so often strives to. Just look at that cat-scan go, all alien and hi-fi! On "Fever Ray", as well as "Silent Shout", Karin Dreijer's voice is often filtered through dry masses of vocoder, sometimes to the point where it does not only shift pitch any more, it also shifts sex. Here it's best heard on album highlight "Concrete Walls". This is the kind of vocal delivery that - as far as these kind of comparisons go - makes you realize how embarrassingly femme and gimmicky Björk and Kate Bush really are. Because those are the two Karin Dreijer gets compared to most often. There is something far more convincing to her voice, I'd even go as far as to call it "foreboding". This is what lifts Dreijer high above her semi-scandinavian counterparts. Surely, if a woman has ever sounded cool - not sweet or sexy or elf-like, mind you - cool, then this is it. On "Fever Ray's" instantly catchy pop-moment (or as close as it get's to one here) "Now is the Only Time I Know", Dreijer displays this as well as she ever has. The song suddenly intensifies, picking up momentum as Dreijer puts down the following sentiment on femalehood: "THERE IS NO SETTLING DOWN!".

Which brings us to the inevitable: why is "Fever Ray" not as good as "Silent Shout"? Well, as you might have understood by now, it's missing the "brother" side of the "brother-sister" duo. This does not manifest as a loss in the vocal department (it really doesn't matter whether Olof Dreijer does his bits or not). It's just that without the interaction between those two, "Fever Ray" becomes a little monotone. The Knife follows racy pop-songs (steel drums and hand-claps) with darker moments, not much unlike a prog-rock album alternates it's cathier numbers with epic burners. The same dichotomy follows through into the songs themselves. Sometimes The Knife catches you slipping too far into the Dark Side and then they hit you with sudden, perverse dance-a-thon, girls night out, yippee! This has given their best moments a kind of lushness. And that's what's missing here. Nothing on "Fever Ray" has that instant-panorama-of-production-values feel to it. That's not to say, I'm trying to put it down for being too dark. I just wish the dark numbers were a little less uniform, a little more playful. It works great when that element is in there - in "When I Grow Up" Dreijer says "throwing out a boomerang and waiting for it to come back to me" and then follows this with a delightful little doodad: a hissing sound dynamicly circles the speakers in stereo, giving the impression of a boomerang returning to her hand. When you first notice this, I guarantee you a smile.
So, in conclusion, the loss of Olof Dreijer means the loss of some musical finesse. (Gone are the masterful variations on the one-hand piano theme, most commonly adopted in euro-trance, but taken to another level on "Silent Shout's" title track) But that does not mean you won't enjoy looking at that cat-scan pulsate! It's as addictive as ever. Karin Dreijer's lyrics - a topic of discussion usually left out of music reviews due to space issues - are the best she's ever written. "Fever Ray" is an intricate, masterfully written compilation of texts. I leave you with the following example of a brilliant pop chorus: "Morning, Keep the Streets Empty For Me" and not the actual opening single "If I had a Heart" because, well, it's not a very strong single, I'm afraid. 7/10


  1. Aga Jüri, mis sa arvad sellest Knife´i, ptüi, Fever Ray uuest?

  2. No lühidalt...nagu ma sulle ennist mainisin, kuulasin 'Fever Ray' kõrvale esmakordselt ka 'The Knife'i esimest albumit. Pean tunnistama, et viimase 'wacky beat' ja albumina kvaliteedilt kompaktsem minek võitsid esialgu minu tähelepanu ja soosingu.
    Siiski, üksikult võttes ei leidunud seal võrdseid mõnedele 'Fever Ray' lugudele nagu 'Keep the Streets Empty For Me' ja 'Concrete Walls'.

  3. Su näited, hea näha, kattuvad mu omadega. Kuradi "Now is the Only Time´i" soovitan ka üles kränkkida. Seda Knife'i esimest ise pole palju kuulda jõudnud. Aga... khm... *sügab jalaseljaga pahkluud* Kuidas revüü oli?
    Mõtlesin, et hakkaks neid õige inkas tegema siin, oleks kuidagi huvitavam endal. Saaks paremini maha viksida ka seda kõnepruuki, mis aastatega musaajakirju lugedes on külge jäänud.

  4. Seesinane kõnepruuk eksole, it's glorious. Ükskõik, missugust vahtu sa selle abil suust välja ajad, meelelahutus on garanteeritud ja lausa lust on lugeda. Nagu PÄRIS muusikakriitik oleks meie blogilehele ära eksinud ja siia pesa teinud. Inka on sul hea ja lase samas vaimus edasi.
    Huvitavaks läks lugemine umbes poole pealt, kus sa vokaali kõlapilti tabavalt kirjeldama hakkasid. Sama hästi oleks võinud revüüd sealtsamast alustada, kuigi ma saan ka aru, et cat-scan oli vaja enne kuidagi sisse juhatada.