Fever Ray – Radical Romantics (Rabid Records)

Fever Ray – Radical Romantics (Rabid Records)

”This is not a band/Ready for a dissection”, warns Karin Dreijer on ‘What They Call Us’, opener of Radical Romantics, their third chapter as Fever Ray.

There is already a lot of analysis of this brilliant album out there (in particular Sasha Geffen‘s interview for Pitchfork goes deep into its origins) but it’s important to say first that it’s great to hear another Fever Ray album after 6 years. In parts it’s also the nearest-sounding thing to The Knife in almost a decade. However, while Dreijer’s brother and fellow The Knife member, Olof Dreijer co-wrote and co-produced the first four tracks, Radical Romantics is most definitely a Fever Ray affair, despite all its familiar beats and nostalgic synth shimmy. Here, Fever Ray also pitches in with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Portuguese DJ Nídia, Bristol’s Vessel, and Pär Grindvik and Peder Mannerfelt‘s faustian techno-pop project Aasthma, who also featured on 2017’s Plunge.

At its heart Radical Romantics is a love album, but not in any traditional or hetero-normative sense. With Plunge, Dreijer’s urgency to embrace life in all its fully-realised queerness created a rhythm-driven, sensory spectacular. Love and lust was grabbed in fleeting snatches across its experimental and head-spinning tracks. Radical Romantics burns much more slowly. It’s a more vulnerable creature, being both candid and mysterious and scarier for it. The songs lean more on Dreijer’s play on gendered vocals. Their formant voice effects transform them into a multitude of characters whose dramas unfold seductively, or remain abstract and hidden among cryptic lyrics and imagery. In turns we meet a parent vowing violent revenge on their child’s school bully (‘Even It Out’), a survivor holding their feet to the emotional flames of therapy (‘North’), a lover consumed by doubt, yearning for but sabotaging true intimacy (‘Tapping Fingers’). Each weird, beautifully ugly persona Dreijer’s voice inhabits seems at odds with the next, but they share one trait. Implicit in each of their breaths, sighs or screams is the fear of losing everything.

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To truly love is to risk loss. It takes time and patience to grow, two things that are scarce in a fast-paced, materialist and superficial world. Dreijer’s response is to double down on making human connections, to radicalize and broaden the concept of love. For Fever Ray to live is to have experiences, even if it’s of something that is not in our best long-term interest. On ‘Kandy’ , they adopt the personas of lank-haired office drone ‘Main’ and the seedier, bald-capped pink satin alter ego ‘Romance’, embodying the inner struggle between aspects of personality. The surreal visuals in the the video are awkward and conflicting and become a strange twist on the implied intimacy of the lyrics. The encounter is both unsettling and hypnotic, but deeper questions are left unanswered, lingering in the memories of “wood and fire”.

Alongside this introspection and examination of the ideals of romance, Radical Romantics is not short of some seductive and extravert dance floor fillers. For example, Vessel’s production of ‘Carbon Dioxide’ squeezes every drop of euphoria out of the track’s giddy appeal, as it refers to Corinthians 13:1, Mancini‘s ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ and Anne Morrow Lindbergh‘s Gift from the Sea along the way. “Holding my heart while falling” sings Dreijer in, beat for beat, the most joyous ever track about succumbing to the hypertension and messiness of love. Then there is ‘Shiver’ tentatively inching forward in hip-swaying arcs of rhythmic synth, as Dreijer craves touch and sensual pleasure, all while asking “Can I trust you?” ‘Even It Out’ is another standout moment, with Dreijer’s threats piercing like a one-inch punch through Reznor & Ross’ guitar heavy mix:

“There’s no room for you/ And we know where you live
One day we might come after you/ Taking back what’s ours (ours)
And then we cut, cut, cut…”

The album finishes quite unexpectedly with a seemingly aimless, seven-minute ambient comedown. ‘Bottom of the Ocean’ was originally scored for Ingmar Bergman‘s Vargtimmen (‘Hour Of The Wolf’, the time which most births and deaths occur). Consisting entirely of haunting, swirling synth drones and Dreijer’s echoing ‘Ohs’ , the track spirals inwards like the inside of a shell, to the point of infinity.

On first bite, Radical Romatics might taste more like their self-titled debut than Plunge. But repeat listens deepen an appreciation of the questions, concerns and insights Dreijer packs into it all. This time Fever Ray is different again and, as ever, they’re not done.

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‘Radical Romantics’ is released on 10th March via Rabid Records.

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