When She Grew Up

Fever Ray at 10

Fever Ray Fever Ray, Mute 2009

Now that the Knife is defunct, it may not stay true that Karin Dreijer only produces a Fever Ray album to chronicle a significant life change.

But that was the case with 2017’s rattling Plunge, a post-apocalyptic coming-out party for a queer sexuality the Knife merely alluded to. Eight years prior, Robert Christgau bluntly stated that Dreijer’s eponymous solo bow was about money. A close reader on Genius ascertained it’s about motherhood. I say it’s about the intersection of the two, the first synth-goth album in the history of the world to worry about its ability to provide for dependents.

“Dry and dusty / I am a capsule of energy” and “Haven’t slept since summer” are two different angles to view the work shifts of parenthood, which on Fever Ray is often glimpsed indirectly. “Seven” addressed domesticity with the surgical focus on a Betty Draper storyline on Mad Men: “We used to talk on the phone / If we have time, if it’s the right time / Accompany me / By the kitchen sink / We talk about love
We talk about dishwasher tablets.” Love and dishwasher tablets on the same plane is one way to draw up a household in song, and then there’s the division of labor: “Who is the alpha?” asks “I’m Not Done.” On “Dry and Dusty,” these duties are painted as drably as “Work as I’ve been told / In return I get money.”

Fever Ray, 2009

The intersection of money and family would codify Jay-Z’s 4:44 several years later, which rap’s soon-to-be billionaire rendered much more specifically than this Swedish Marxist’s small-house short stories of trepidation and apprehensiveness. Dreijer takes several nature walks throughout Fever Ray, including one in high heels, and her observations never boil down to simple darkwave when she asserts things like “I’ve never liked that sad look / From someone who wants to be loved by you” on “When I Grow Up.”

Sonically, Dreijer employs a panoply of soft, tom-based drum patterns and synths so tangibly textured they’re cushions. That doesn’t make her wintry soundscapes much warmer, but they’re not made of ice either. They’re habitably cold. Her aural portraits are foreboding but never darker than necessary, just like the adulthood she greets with anxiety but not despair. And sometimes, that anxiety is relieved, concluded, achieved. “Lay back with a big cigar,” sang Dreijer towards the album’s end. “Lay back this is where we are.”

 

 

Dan Weiss

Dan Weiss is a freelance music journalist based in Collingswood, New Jersey. He is the former (and last-ever) reviews editor at Spin magazine.

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