Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fever Ray - Plunge Review

Ah, Karin Dreijer Andersson. What's there left to say? She's a Swedish creature whose art, apart from Bjork, resembles nothing of her contemporaries. She gracefully, or not so gracefully depending on your position, angles love loss with a fierce political agenda and a jovial sense of social activism. Known most prominently as one half of the acclaimed duo The Knife, Andersson's work with her brother became progressively weirder as their confidence grew. In the early 2000's, ostentatious Electropop was their origin. By 2006, with Silent Shout, their tone turned dark and menacing, equating their sonic identity to the cultural issues they so often spoke on behalf of. By 2013, boundaries were no longer necessary as Shaking The Habitual, a massive Experimental project, pushed every possible sensation to its unpredictable conclusion. Amongst the rubble was a nine-minute Industrial Techno calamity ('Full Of Fire') and a 20-minute Ambient trip to the icy abyss ('Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized').

Now, why bring up all The Knife's work when Plunge is the second project of Fever Ray, Andersson's dynamic solo project? Well, the album reverts Fever Ray's cold and calculated standards and practices with the very convivial Electropop that the artist proudly hailed early in her career. For fans who prefer The Knife's work over Fever Ray's atmospheric drudge, like myself, this came as a pleasant surprise when 'To The Moon And Back' scampered with intangible percussion and awkward language as the lead single. Of course, many ignored the genetic catchiness of the song right when Andersson cried out "I want to ram my fingers up your pussy." I don't blame them. But at the same time, this is the same grotesque sexual deviant who, nearly 15 years ago, ended Deep Cuts by hollering with macho, auto-tuned brass: "I keep my dick hanging out of my pants, so I can point out what I want." Andersson's careless view on sexuality, in that all the controversial dialogue surrounding its fetishization is inconsequential, has always fascinated me. On Plunge's anti-peak, 'This Country,' Andersson reaches even further into the extreme with squelching bass and irritable vocals, culminating by screaming that "this country makes it hard to fuck." Which has already become meme material, a pro given the reach of its social activism.

With Andersson's abrasive language and seemingly irresponsible production, that, when compared to Fever Ray's debut, holds virtually no atmospheric conditions, it's easy to see why many would call this a disappointment. After all, this is Andersson going back to contentious Electropop after a slew of artists, like Anohni, Arca, and YACHT, watered down the genre she so clumsily characterized. Overall, I'm still a bit hazy towards my thoughts on Plunge. The project essentially combines the absurdity of The Knife's first two projects with the Electronic refinement of Silent Shout. Apart from 'To The Moon And Back,' or even including it despite its success, there seems to be a lack of extraordinary set-pieces. On Silent Shout, the epic tracks like 'Neverland' and 'We Share Our Mothers' Health,' felt massive and relentless. Here, 'Falling' and 'An Itch' attempt to rise but get shafted by an unforeseen glass ceiling. 'Plunge' does so too, but lacks a voice, literally, causing it to be an instrumental dud. Meanwhile, 'Mustn't Hurry' and 'Red Trails' do their best at pleasing the Fever Ray crowd, providing a thinly-veiled aura of crispness that's largely absent elsewhere. 

However, the traditional Knife cuts, whatever that may mean, flourish burrowed in their quaint, kooky nests. 'A Part Of Us' is arranged meticulously, 'IDK About You' counteracts that with a breathless, savage fervor. The ending of the latter in particular is straight out of 2001's Knife canon, with oriental synths and cleaved vocal strips. 'To The Moon And Back' finds a fluid mix of each, even incorporating some of the rapid Techno fixtures of Shaking The Habitual. Right now, the single still stands as my go-to favorite, an instantly-likable cut that flaunts the exact reason I was drawn into The Knife nearly a year ago. As far as an all-consuming track though, 'Mama's Hand' seems to comb over all of Andersson's work thus far. It has everything. Multi-layered, gorgeously arranged, with plodding drums and melodious singing, Andersson even goes so far on 'Mama's Hand' to unveil a personal anecdote from her childhood. Here, the singer's at her most reflective, drawing on past instances of hope and grief, excelling with a more mature songwriting approach that works all too well over the various, overlapping measures. It's inconsistent, sure, but as a whole Plunge wins me over by incorporating long-dead Knife elements that, to me, will never go out of style.


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