It’s a pity that perhaps the most accessible song on Fever Ray’s long awaited, second release Plunge, is also the last. What that means is that you have to wade through 10 songs, to get to ‘Mama’s Hand‘ — a track that sees Swede Karin Dreijer sing over a syncopated beat that’s overlaid with a melody that seems to consist of whistles and trills.
In the hands of almost any other artist, that combination would be one that would be hard to pull off, let alone praise and deem accessible, but Dreijer has a knack for introducing her listeners into a very specific world and worldview — both via her electronic music duo, The Knife, which she is a part of with her brother, Olof Dreijer, and on the music she makes solo, under the moniker Fever Ray. Her first, and only album as Fever Ray was released in 2009, and took The Knife’s conceptual electronica, and stripped it down to its elements, before Dreijer’s haunting vocals lent an air of claustrophobic foreboding to the whole enterprise.
While Plunge doesn’t immerse the listener in a mood the way that her debut also titled Fever Ray, did, it is an enjoyable listen. Often frantic, sometimes indulgent; the album at its core is an about face from both, the Knife’s oeuvre and her 2009 release. Whereas Shaking the Habitual, the 2013 album (and most recent release) by The Knife was released with a manifesto that looked with pessimism at all that was wrong with the world, Plunge suggests a hopefully new beginning, centred on love and its healing properties. Her self-titled album made ample use of samples from nature, like the waves that end ‘If I Had a Heart‘, or the chirping and cooing birds that are used to add atmosphere to ‘Coconut‘, but on Plunge, an album that paradoxically concerns itself with love, and its place in modern society, the aural soundscape is purely synthetic, mirroring the times that we live in.
Sonically, ‘Plunge‘, the instrumental title track, is vintage Fever Ray, with its trademark xylophone synths and a skittering backbone, creating the air of maniacal dread that has been a hallmark of the first album. The penultimate track, ‘An Itch’, is a forceful banger based around a jackhammering beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on the dance floor. On ‘Red Trails’, the violin (played by Sara Parkman) is used to give the feeling of being closed in on, while Dreijer intones, with her Swedish remove, “Blood was our favourite paint/ You were my favourite pain.”
It’s the frankness of the lyrics on this album that represent the biggest change in direction for Dreijer. Taking some of the bluntness of the aforementioned manifesto, the lyrics interrogate the role that love plays in the world today, and if it’s as vital in today’s world, as it used to be. Other themes that the album wrestles with are the notion of societal boundaries and lust and how gender (and gender roles) shapes it all. If that seems like an impossible ask from an album of what is essentially foreboding electronic music, it’s something that Dreijer does with aplomb. Cerebral, vivid and ideal for sloganeers, the lyrics are as hard hitting as the music.
After eight years, Plunge interrogates the time we live in. While retaining Fever Ray’s distinctive sonic cues, the album expands on the sense of foreboding that characterised the debut, to allow for some hope, in the penetrating aural soundscape, Dreijer seems to believe that ultimately love is the answer: “The final puzzle piece/This little thing called love,” is how she closes out ‘Mama’s Hand’. A pop-music cliché, emblem of hope or a little bit of both — that depends on the listener.