Fever Ray is Karin Dreijer Andersson, better known as one half of the Knife, the Swedish electronic brother-sister juggernaut. For a duo who has hidden themselves from the public, literally, it’s pleasantly surprising how well known and adored they’ve become. Since their third album, Silent Shout, broke through in 2006, it’s left them in an enviable position – an art band with a following that spans the pop, indie and dance scenes.
This solo project doesn’t veer far from the Knife’s nocturnal clicks and ghostly voices, but it avoids the danceable beats of her main gig. Silent Shout generated a lot of its eeriness by distorting voices into strange registers, until it was hard to determine the gender, or even the species producing the sound. After listening to Fever Ray, it’s easier to pick out Karin’s contributions to the former disc; she keeps her voice here in natural range much of the time. But even ifFever Ray is less alien or beat-driven than the Knife, it doesn’t come across as the personal statement that’s typical of solo outings.
What we get here is closer to the weird-woman-with-a-sequencer music of Kate Bush and Björk, or the nearly forgotten but equally kooky Danielle Dax. Like those artists, there’s a sense of an individual pursing obsessions – sounds, themes, exotic genres – but presenting them in a more demure way than their male peers might (I’m looking at you, Gabriel and Byrne). “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” features panpipes, and it should sound more like a fusion of Andean music than it does. Her voice slips from a hymn to a drone, and it’s driven by a violent crack for a beat. Many of the tracks have a hymn-like quality: melody is drawn out over gradual tempo, and she harmonizes with herself in the not-altogether-pleasant fashion of a congregation. Lyrics are inscrutable mantras that refuse to become expressive: “We talk about love / We talk about dishwasher tablets.” The opening track takes this approach to the extreme, slowing voice and textures down to nothing but a grumbling baritone.
The whole record isn’t that austere, thankfully, but most of it is. When “Triangle Walks” starts layering rhythms, the thumb piano plinks start to aggregate into world-fusion clichés. Anderssen doesn’t linger there, though, and “Concrete Walls” brings back the night with the Knife’s trademark kettle-drum strikes and chants. She’s at her best when sticking to a palette of steel, indigo and black.