REVIEW: Fever Ray - Fever Ray
Zach Hart Thursday, April 16, 2009
When reviewing Fever Ray's debut album it becomes necessary to keep in mind a few relevant (and unavoidable) facts during your listen. Fever Ray is the spawn of Karin Dreijer--yes, the same Karin Dreijer who teamed up with her brother Olof to create The Knife's 2006's masterpiece Silent Shout. Of course, I strongly doubt you are unaware of this fact. Remember how awesome that album was? Well get those thoughts out of your head because even before you start absorbing the album your ears are already going to be judgmental. Like I said, keep it all in mind and try not to let anything cloud your opinion just yet.
“If I Had a Heart” opens up Fever Ray and catches its hooks in you. The track offers a lot even at first listen. Here the album takes care of that big elephant in the room. Yes, we have something that sounds like The Knife. Even better, though, we have something that has an eerie feel of familiarity but also freshness. “If I Had a Heart” makes you feel isolated. It's a dark track filling the spaces with pounding beats and Dreijer's familiar high and low-pitched voices. This creepy almost nightmarish tone was one of the things I loved about Silent Shout and it is carried over here. The problem, however, is that there is an absence of the electronic energy that was infused in so many of The Knife's other tracks. Here you feel like you are going to be led into something thicker and your hand won't be held by frantic synthesizers.
After the opening it wouldn't be surprising to feel that the overall tone of Fever Ray would be some sort of exercise in restraint. After a heavy-handed track and such a sparse use of house/techno rhythms it does feel like a departure from The Knife. “When I Grow Up” feels like it might turn out this way too. The first half of the track is delicately packed except for the fact that there is a hook that slowly becomes faster and more frantic throughout the song. If the opening track satisfied your thirst for the chills that The Knife sent up your spine the second track will flesh out those synthesized landscapes of electro-pop you were missing.
In fact, the first half of Fever Ray slowly reveals its true brilliance to you. “Seven” and “Triangle Walks” are two of my favorite songs off the album and are perfect examples of how Fever Ray actually shines. You are bathed in the familiarity of the albums that have come before it and are comfortable. At first listen these songs are enjoyable--something the album does genuinely well. It isn't until a few listens that you actually drawn out of this idea of being comforted by familiarity and listen to the true “newness” of everything. Both “Seven” and “Triangle Walks” blend that insular feeling of “If I Had a Heart” with the familiar house rhythms of The Knife and then add in a surprising touch of world music beats. Here less is scattered and more is concise. The first half of Fever Ray experiments with itself by introducing old and new ideas and then rolling them into something that is wonderfully layered.
It is with this stroke of excellence that the album begins to stutter…if only for a bit. Fever Ray gives off the occasional sense that it is too afraid to come out of the dark shell it has created for itself. There are tracks that can and do plod on for too long trying to ensnare. I found myself being initially intrigued by the opening of “Concrete Walls” but soon lost. The track is the second longest on the album running at nearly six minutes and after the third minute nothing happens. The song tries to retreat back into the barren glow of “If I Had a Heart” but then introduces too many new sounds and beats to sound unique. It has no build and a slow hook, it is a tired track. “Now's the Only Time I Know” comes very close to success. Dreijer harmonizes with herself, sound after sound is added to create a larger scope yet something about the song doesn't fit right. Where “Concrete Walls” felt like it was trying to do too much, “Now's the Only Time I Know” didn't do enough. Then again, maybe I have just not wrapped my head around the songs just yet--they just feel oddly mismatched between the first and last half of the album.
Songs aside, one of my main issues with Fever Ray is if the moniker of “Fever Ray” even needs to exist. The Dreijers have said that they are putting The Knife on hiatus and yes, that is a sad. The thing is, if a new band consists of one half of the original band and sounds quite similar to said band, is the name change really that big of a deal? Bands continuously evolve over time and Fever Ray feels like it could be an extension to The Knife's catalog. However, I'm getting ahead of myself. Like I said at the beginning of the review you need to keep the facts in mind but don't let them get in the way of what you are actually listening to. My other favorite song on the album is “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” which does an almost better job at creating this isolated and complex feel than the opening track. The effort that Karin Dreijer makes to keep an intricate and sonically complex album without adding the extra layers of flash and synthesized spectacle might be the brightest (or the most disappointing) aspect of the album. Even the seven minute long closer “Coconut” is epic but in a subdued way. To some Fever Ray might feel like less of a side project and more of a continuation of an already established and incredible sound. At times this can be true, but Fever Ray/Karin Dreijer is reaching for something more and this compelling first taste makes you hopeful for what's in store.