Karin Dreijer Andersson, also known as Fever Ray, first made a splash in the music world as one half of the Swedish electropop duo, The Knife. Singles like “Heartbeats” and “You Take My Breath Away” thrived in the emerging synthpop wave of the early 2000’s, carrying them to a level of moderate commercial success. Their next album, 2006’s Silent Shout, would see The Knife dip their playful pop in toxic waste, emerging with a mutant sound the world of synthpop had never heard before. This would be the sound the world would grow to know them for, and for which Fever Ray would tailor and refine into her debut solo album. Adored by critics and fans, Fever Ray marked new territory for pop records, tearing down limitations for what a project of the genre should sound like. Enigmatic and intricate rhythms danced overtop glacial synthscapes, laying down the foundation for Karin’s innovative vocals, which glided along the tracks with dignified grace. It was a sound Fever Ray would apply to singles released over the following years, further solidifying it as a signature part of her musical persona.
Despite the multi-year hiatus, Plunge sees this sound return, although this time with much less stress on the construction of the album’s soundscapes. Within the first few minutes, Plunge asserts a new direction for Fever Ray. “Wanna Sip” comes out the gate screaming, with the spotlight on Karin’s powerful words and vocal performance. The first few tracks effectively foreshadow the direction of the new record, of which we see a more danceable side to Karin’s solo music. Rarely found are songs focused around the buildup of chilly moods and tones. Instead, it’s as if Karin wants us to feel guilty for dancing to music with lyrical subjects so perverse, and sometimes even volatile. Plunge shows a kinkier side of Fever Ray, with songs like “This Country” and “To the Moon and Back” being some of the most delightfully uncomfortable singles released this year.
Despite the album’s inclination to make the listener get up and move rather than sit and ponder, the album’s lyrical themes are as serious as Fever Ray’s statements have ever been. Presented through infectious hooks and earworms, Plunge’s main reoccurring theme is the idea that love and violence coexist through sex. However, this marriage between the two most primal forces of human nature can turn sour and rotten through sexual materialism and exploitation, which is the record’s ultimate point. The result is Plunge, a danceable, yet in its own way, tragic musical project by one of current music’s most unique visionaries. It may not end up sounding as cohesive or immersive as her debut, but it would be unfair to compare two albums with such different directives, despite them being cut from the same musical cloth.
While choosing to strip away most of the soundscapes, Plunge ends up a less icy record that’s more grounded in reality than Fever Ray’s debut. Lead by her strong sense of presence, as well as her socially driven lyrics, it has a certain clarity and intimacy we’ve never heard from Karin. While it may prove for a slightly less immersive listen, Plunge sharpens, redefines, and reasserts Fever Ray as a driving figure in 2017’s music world.