The second coming of Fever Ray is upon us like a second coming of the sexual revolution. Brazen, bold, political and sexy, it’s been an unexpected treat from the moment it dropped out of nowhere three weeks ago.
If the trick to good experimental music is making something people also want to listen to, Plunge is the real deal. More extroverted and edgy than her claustrophobic debut, this avant-garde electronic outing pairs stabbing synths an brutal beats with melodic and wondrous songwriting. It’s challenging and no doubt difficult listening at times, but has so many layers and simply so many good songs that it never feels like a chore.
Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer displays an activist spirit right across the deeply personal record – her first as Fever Ray since 2009 and the first full-length we’ve heard from her since The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual in 2013. This mix of the personal and political has characterised so many releases in post-Trump and post-Brexit 2017, from Kendrick Lamar to The National, but few have managed a lyric as downright radical as “Free abortions/ And clean water/ Destroy nuclear/ Destroy boring”.
That song, This Country, is a lyrical centrepiece as Dreijer challanges, “Gag me, awake my fighting spirit” and repeats the refrain “That’s not how to love me”. Finishing by chanting “This country makes it hard to fuck” over and over, the Swede is in her element pushing buttons and railing against conservatism.
Opener Wanna Sip also challenges a friend or lover to see eye to eye politically, kicking off the album with “I wanna love you but you’re not making it easy”. Concluding that “I don’t think you should hang with us,” the laser synths cut through the tension like an industrial big beat headbanger, sounding purpose-built for a blinding light show.
It’s also something of a coming out record for the notoriously private artist – either that or a remarkable representation of gender fluidity. On the aching Falling, Dreijer describes it as “a queer healing,” going onto sing: “she makes me feel dirty again”.
It all builds to a peak on landmark single To The Moon And Back. It’s jawdropping second verse: “First I take you, then you take me/ Bring some life into a fantasy/ Your lips, warm and fuzzy/ I want to run my fingers up your pussy,” may leave little to the imagination, but the ecstatic instrumental dance outro is more celebration than shock.
While the closing trio don’t again reach these heights, there’s plenty to like about Red Trails and Mama’s Hand, especially. The former is the album’s most organic moment, soaked in strings and raw textures, while the latter is a fine melodic finale to an abrasive collection. Both are produced by Dreijer alongside Johannes Berglund and Paula Temple, and alongside early standout Mustn’t Hurry they form the album’s melodic core. Peder Mannerfelt, meanwhile, is responsible for most of the abrasive stuff (with the exception of the percussion heavy highlight IDK About You, handled by 20 year old Portuguese up and comer NIDIA).
Both as Fever Ray and as part of The Knife, Dreijer has never been far from the cutting edge of pop music, and nothing changes in that respect on Plunge. But whereas Shaking The Habitual could’ve been viewed as indulgent and difficult to penetrate, Plunge balances just the right amount of experimentation, hooks and her own very individual outlook to make it a record unlike anything else in 2017, and Dreijer’s best work since Silent Shout.