The solo project of the Knife's Karin Dreijer, Fever Ray broadens and deepens the shape-shifting electronic pop of their former group, allowing them to explore different identities -- and their meanings -- even more fully with their music and imagery. On 2009's Fever Ray, Dreijer's moody character sketches used the icy atmospheres and pitch-shifted vocals they perfected with the Knife in more personal and intimate ways. On 2017's fiery Plunge, they delivered frequently thrilling manifestos on queerness, politics, and desire. With each Fever Ray release, Dreijer pushes artistic boundaries, questions society's limitations, and challenges listeners. Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Dreijer began playing guitar at age ten. After working as a web designer, in the early '90s they founded the band Honey Is Cool, who released several EPs and a pair of albums (1997's Crazy Love and 1999's Early Morning Are You Working?) before calling it quits in 2000. Following the group's disbandment, Dreijer focused their energy on the Knife, the electro-pop project they formed with their brother Olof in 1999. With 2001's The Knife, 2003's Deep Cuts, and 2006's Silent Shout, the Knife became one of the most musically and visually inventive acts of the 2000s, thanks to their vivid, sometimes unsettling songs and flair for striking costumes and design. Dreijer began working on Fever Ray after they had their second child and the Knife finished the Silent Shout tour. After working on demos and song ideas on their own, they then collaborated with producer Christoffer Berg, who had mixed the Knife's music. Word of the project surfaced in mid-2008 and the first music, an instrumental version of "If I Had a Heart," appeared on Fever Ray's MySpace page a few months later. Fever Ray was available in January 2009 as a digital download, and the album was physically released that March. After Fever Ray's release, Dreijer juggled a number of different projects. Later in 2009, they wrote the music for Dirty Diaries, an anthology of feminist pornographic short films. They also returned to the Knife for Tomorrow, In a Year, an opera inspired by Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species that also featured Mt. Sims and Planningtorock; its music was released in 2010. The following year, Dreijer contributed the song "The Wolf" to the film Red Riding Hood and composed the score for a stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's 1968 horror film Hour of the Wolf. After the Knife released 2013's Shaking the Habitual and went on an extensive tour captured by 2014's Shaken-Up Versions, the duo disbanded. Along with working on Fever Ray material, in 2016 Dreijer composed and produced the music for the play Vahák. In 2017, they issued the Fever Ray single "To the Moon and Back" shortly before the surprise release of October's full-length Plunge (the album received a physical release in February 2018). At that year's Swedish Grammys, Dreijer and the rest of the production team behind Plunge won the Producer of the Year award. The 2019 concert album Live at Troxy documented Plunge's ambitious live show, which featured Dreijer working with many collaborators who are female or non-binary and over the age of 40. ~ Heather Phares
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Electronic/Dance - Released January 13, 2009 | Mute
At first, it's a little difficult to determine where the Knife ends and Fever Ray begins. On paper, it's clear -- the Knife is the project of Karin Dreijer and their brother Olof, while Fever Ray is Karin with co-producers Christoffer Berg, Van Rivers, and the Subliminal Kid -- but the differences aren't as distinct when listening to Fever Ray the first few times. Initially, the album's dark, frosty atmosphere feels like a continuation of the Knife's brilliant Silent Shout, and the oddly bouncy rhythms on songs like "Triangle Walks" and "Coconut" recall the duo's tropical-yet-frozen Nordic/Caribbean fusion. Eventually, though, Fever Ray reveals itself as far darker and more intimate than anything by the Knife. The Knife's spooky impulses are usually tempered by vivid pop instincts that Fever Ray replaces with a consistently eerie mood, particularly on "Concrete Walls," which feels like an even grimmer cousin of Silent Shout's "From Off to On." However, Fever Ray's mix of confessional lyrics and chilly, blatantly synthetic, and often harsh sounds makes this album as successful an electronic singer/songwriter album as Björk's Homogenic. These are some of the most alluring and disturbing songs Dreijer has been involved in making. The excellent album opener, "If I Had a Heart," explores possibly inhuman need with a churning, almost subliminal synth and murky bass driving Dreijer's pitch-shifted vocals (which sound more like a different part of their psyche than a different character in the song); when Dreijer's untreated voice comes in, keening "Will I ever ever reach the floor?" they sound even more frail and desperate by comparison. The rest of Fever Ray follows suit, offering fragile portraits and sketches that walk the fine line between intimate and insular. Dreijer further expands on the storytelling skills they developed on Silent Shout: the characters in their songs feel even more resonant and unique, especially on "When I Grow Up," which is as fascinatingly fragmented as a child's train of thought, skipping from sentiments like "I'm very good with plants" to "I've never liked that sad look by someone who wants to be loved by you." Dreijer also has an eye for unusual details, as on "Seven"'s "November smoke/And your toes go numb." It all comes together on the haunting "Now's the Only Time I Know," where the low end of Dreijer's voice sounds especially vulnerable and the lyrics fill in just enough to be tantalizing. At times, Fever Ray threatens to become a little too mysterious, but it never sounds less than intriguing, from the layers of claps and castanets that make up the beat on "I'm Not Done" to "Keep the Streets Empty for Me"'s almost imperceptible guitars. With almost tangible textures and a striking mood of isolation and singularity, Fever Ray is a truly strange but riveting album. ~ Heather Phares
Electronic/Dance - Released October 27, 2017 | Mute
"Hey, remember me? I've been busy working like crazy," Karin Dreijer sings on Plunge, but even though Fever Ray's second album arrived eight years after the project's self-titled debut and five years after the Knife's Shaking the Habitual, Dreijer remains unforgettable. With both of those acts, they pioneered crystalline electronic sounds that became the blueprint for many acts during the time between their albums. With Plunge, Dreijer reaffirms that they're still more fearless than most of their would-be peers. From its title to its songs, the album is a sudden, total immersion in the unexpected. On Fever Ray, Dreijer mined pure darkness for all it was worth; this time, they throw more light on their music, and it's stranger and brighter sounding than it has been in years. Frequently, Plunge recalls the way the Knife's early albums filtered tropical sounds through an iceberg. On the title track, the synths sound like steel drums and splashing water, and thanks to Portuguese producer Nidia's galloping beat, "IDK About You" resembles a futuristic-yet-feral mating ritual. Yet Plunge sounds fresher -- sharper -- than the Knife's later releases, even as it touches on similar themes. Since Silent Shout, Dreijer has eloquently expressed the need for intimacy, as well as its consequences, by blurring the lines between love songs and horror themes. "Falling," which echoes Fever Ray's icy isolation, upholds that tradition, but so do the fierce and tempting "Wanna Sip" and the equally nightmarish and poignant "An Itch," a pair of songs that explore the potentially terrifying possibility of connecting with someone else. The fear and hope surrounding letting the right one in peaks on "Red Trails," where Dreijer sings about a vampiric relationship ("blood was our favorite paint/You were my favorite pain") over violin and a ricocheting beat to stunning effect. Elsewhere, Dreijer makes the album's defiance overtly political on "This Country," where "Destroy boring" and "Every time we f*ck, we win" are key parts of their manifesto, and on "To the Moon and Back," where their bold statements are all the more subversive because of their deceptively sugary sounds. Dreijer matches these expressions of individuality with a wish to belong that, remarkably, doesn't feel contradictory. The somber patience of "Mustn't Hurry" and "A Part of Us" culminates with "Mama's Hand," which gives the album a surprisingly happy conclusion thanks to "a little thing called love." Boasting more moods and colors than Fever Ray's debut, or any single Knife album, Plunge's headlong dive into commitment is Dreijer's most powerful work yet. ~ Heather Phares
Electronic/Dance - Released February 24, 2009 | Mute
"If I Had a Heart" is the first single from the Knife's Karen Dreijer's solo project, and it's an incredibly detached, understated, and "cool" track. It's the chilling flipside to the Tin Man's verse in "If I Only Had a Brain." Instead of projecting whimsy and cheery longing, Dreijer's song is icy and unsettling. There isn't really a beat, but a hushed, persistent hum, and Dreijer harmonizes with a version of herself manipulated down a few octaves, so it sounds like a bizarre alien transmission.
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