Fever Ray, by Karin Dreijer Andersson, could easily be mistaken for a new record by the Knife, though without her brother Olof in tow, it can’t rightly be called one. Fever Ray is a one-woman singersongwriter project, a genre designation that feels incredibly wrong here. Whether unadorned or transmogrified by dehumanizing vocal effects, her Swedish tones are unmistakable. No one making pop music sounds odd in quite the same way. The songs seem more likely to have come from Saturn than Stockholm. The Knife’s 2006 triumph Silent Shout had its pensive moments, but it was always coiled to burst into hyper-kinetic dance beats. Fever Ray works with a similar electronic palette, but muted, with rich blue-grays replacing dashes of shining neon. It brings tension without release. On first exposure, it seems a decidedly somber effort, but it crawls further under your skin with each repeat listen. Identifiably a record about motherhood (the Knife’s current hiatus is largely about Andersson tending to the birth of a second child), it lacks the sentimental glow its subject matter connotes. It’s a fabulously evocative album of early mornings, quiet drives and loneliness, though not solitude.
Andersson is a wildly interesting lyricist, crafting lines that start and finish in different emotional time zones. She’s as hard to predict as Steve Malkmus in her own way, though her tangents are less playful jokesterism than the disjointed connections of an exhausted mind. References to sleeplessness abound, understandably. She notes that, “the night was long, the day even longer,” and guesses she hasn’t slept “since summer.” The subdued tempo is more aptly described as frazzled than sedate. Evocative language freely mingles with mundane detail, as in “Seven”’s glorious line, “We talked about love, we talked about dishwasher tablets.” (Both subjects end up sounding very peculiar in her inflection.) There are moments too, when she sounds as bare and vulnerable as she has in years. The stunning “Now’s the Only Time I Know” ponders stripping life down to the essentials, and forgoes her masculine vocal warp as a sign of thematic commitment. A bit of the Knife’s mystique is lost, but it cuts even deeper.