After reading James at Demob Happy, Robert's follow up comments both there and here and finally Alexis Petridis in the Guardian (those print chaps take a while to catch up don't they?) I found myself prompted back into the electronic arena, an area I inhabit less and less these days. Fever Rayis the solo project of The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson. I had a vague awareness of The Knife, which itself is amazing given how actively they avoid publicity, but hadn't really listened to their critically acclaimed 2006 album Silent Shout. A quick catch-up now reveals an album of dark electronica, distorted vocals and even some upfront dance tracks. Not enough for me to commit to a full review as you can see, and the kind of album that would be likely to languish in the back of the collection somewhere if I'm honest. But Fever Ray is something else.
The key to that is the why. A bit like modern art, which can look like a load of 'I could've done that' twaddle until the artist explains what it all means, electronic music either appeals aurally to you or doesn't, there is seldom any lyrical content to latch onto and if there is, it's often nonsense. Fever Ray's lyrics might have remained equally opaque if I hadn't read Petridis' review where I learnt that Andersson had recently had a baby. Suddenly the music has a heart, ironic given the title of the opening track, and the album is lifted out of the purely electronic mould.
If I Had A Heart begins with a throbbing sound which continues throughout. A distorted vocal intones 'This will never end/Cause I want more/More, give me more, give me more'. It is frankly a terrifying beginning and as the pulse in the music continues under 'If I had a heart I could love you/If I had a voice I would sing' it feels like the heartbeat she claims not to have. When I Grow Up has a very Björk feel lyrically and like the Icelandic pixie you have no doubt when she sings 'I put my soul in what I do'. Musically I was reminded of Boards of Canada on Dry and Dusty, Röyksopp on Seven but over the whole album there is a definite hint of Vangelis, with the long synthesised chords that were as much a part of the landscape as Ridley Scott's visuals in Blade Runner. (I thought it was terribly clever of me to spot this until I realised that James had mentioned it in his own review!) With Triangle Walks and the tracks that follow it we enter the terrain familiar to any new parent although sounding, hopefully, unfamiliar. Post-natal insomnia and its attendant insanity aren't obvious subjects for electronica but the dark atmosphere created by those extended chords and twisted vocals evoke quiet desperation on Triangle Walks ('Can I come over, I need to rest/Lay down for a while/Disconnect/The night was so long/The day even longer/Lay down for a while/Recollect'), a terrifying claustrophobia on Concrete Walls 'I live between concrete walls/When I took her up she was so warm......Eyes are open the mouth cries/Haven't slept since summer'), and loneliness on Keep The Streets Empty For Me.
But it isn't all dark. The album closes with the grandly cinematic Coconut which, as its title sugests carries an almost tropical flavour, the triumphant chorus line chanted repeatedly, 'Lay down with a big cigar', conjuring a far more positive outlook. Despite the dark and slightly oppresive feel of the album there is a human story cutting through the electronic medium, warming things up a touch, making it more interesting certainly than her work with younger brother Olaf in The Knife, and at times as surprising as opening your own computer and finding a beating heart inside.