Plunge Review

On her second solo release as Fever Ray, Plunge, Karin Dreijer comes out swinging an axe, daring you to touch the bloody throbbing heart on her sleeve.

One half of Swedish electronic pop sibling duo the Knife, Dreijer developed her own slower, spookier sound on Fever Ray’s eponymous 2009 debut. The first two tracks, “If I Had a Heart” and “When I Grow Up,” have found their answers eight years later, on this new and unexpected record: She does; it’s hers, and she is fucking grown.

The first single, “Wanna Sip,” starts with a spare, rattling beat that punches and stomps into a synth-y build. Dreijer has a calculated, forceful way of spitting words. “Something makes a little opening,” she says; intrigued, she wants “to come inside.” But then the sonic assault halts suddenly with a buzzing echo; the momentum stalls. She’s “not sure you should hang with us.”

The song “A Part of Us” describes a “safe space” in a “chosen family” where there is “no disrespectful gaze.” This is a statement about queer camaraderie, Dreijer said in an interview with the Guardian, but also about her privacy and sexual agency. She has historically appeared in masks and heavy latex disguises, so the sight of her face – naked except for “Fever Ray” scrawled in bloody corpse-paint on the cover of Plunge – is a shock by itself. She’s out, to herself as much as to her fans.

Sexual politics are not new to the Dreijers. The Knife’s last performance was entitled, “Post-Colonial Gender Politics Come First, Music Comes Second.” But on this album there is an unmistaken boldness to the message. Where Dreijer’s lyrics have always been artful and abstract, if no less political, here they are brazenly explicit. The kind of sexual statements made on this album, such as in the song “To the Moon and Back,” are unfortunately incongruous coming from a female musician. “First I take you then you take me/ Breathe some life into a fantasy/ Your lips, warm and fuzzy/ I want to run my fingers up your pussy.” The creepy/comical video for this track features Karin in Nosferatu-like makeup, delightedly submissive as the table in a wacky cosplay tea party.

But the sex isn’t gratuitous, it is autonomous. “No definition, feed our own needs,” she says in the most overtly political song on the album, “This Country.” Whether she is referring to her own country or ours, we can relate. “Free abortions/ Clean water/ Destroy nuclear/ Destroy boring.” Five years out of a marriage and a traditional nuclear family, Dreijer is taking her sexual freedom seriously. She’s shed the oppressive weight of stereotypical gender roles and claimed autonomy and the right to be whatever kind of person she wants to be, for herself and for her two daughters.

Although the album isn’t available in physical format until Feb. 23, it was released online as a total surprise back in late October. Dreijer is surprising and confounding expectations on all levels, but she’s also making herself vulnerable, admitting that she needs companionship to face the fight: “One hand in yours and one hand in a tight fist.”

 

Review Response

I don’t know much about Ebert’s reviews, in fact these are the first I have read.  But I know horror movies, and I while I can’t say that I disagree with his thumbs down-you shouldn’t try to remake a classic (see also Carrie and The Shining)- I think that the reason it sucked was just that. It’s just old, been-done-before gore. The original Massacre inspired an entire subgenre, and without it there would be no Rob Zombie films. There’s a man who knows how to reinvent the massacre, not to mention a good remake. It’s when he starts trying to remake his own films, or his own music, that he gets tiresome. But back to Ebert- I think it must be his unabashed opinions that people appreciate and expect from him. His brevity is effective, unlike the other shorter reviews. If you want to know more, he seems to say, watch the movie.

I think my favorite is the long-form “Autumn” review. It really made me want to read the book, by not only describing the story but the unique ways the author has of telling it. The shorter reviews are effective, I think, only if the reader has some interest already. I hadn’t the slightest inclination to read the book at first, but after reading the longer review, I am intrigued.

I think it is important to know when to be brief, when to be objective, but also which details to include that will pique the interest of the reader. And whether you liked your subject or not, I think maybe you have to pull apart what worked from what didn’t, and give props where they are due. Even if it’s Taylor Swift.

A Violation

Violation: sexual activity.

That is the charge documented in a disciplinary report if you are caught having sex in prison. Gay sex is still a crime in the Department of Corrections. The consequences are on par with assault, theft and distribution of narcotics. You are handcuffed and escorted to solitary confinement. You may have a housing restriction placed in your file to ban you from living with your lover. These rules are ostensibly in place to prevent sexual abuse and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. If the state cared about preventing the spread of disease, then condoms and sexual education would be made available to inmates. As it is, there is nothing stopping the spread of disease in prisons. And the rules are more effectively inflicting psychological abuse than preventing rape. Because when consensual sex is criminalized, victims of sexual coercion fear that to report the abuse is to be punished for it.

My bride to be knows the laws outlined in PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act. She is charged with informing new inmates of their rights and of the process for reporting sexual crimes. They see her as someone they can trust, unlike those who would shame them into silence. She explains the potential for manipulation and abuse in relationships with staff, guards and other inmates, empowering them to speak up and ask questions. She prompts these women, still reeling from the trauma of their incarceration, to think about the bonds they will build and the boundaries they must draw if they are to survive in the new, strange and cutthroat world in which they have been confined. I wish someone like her had been there when I first got locked up. Instead I watched an outdated video with a comical but dramatic interpretation of a woman obligated to have sex for accepting a bag of chips from a stranger.

I had a few toxic relationships in prison. Then I was celibate for years. I decided that instead of fixing and fixating on someone else, I needed to start the process of getting to know myself. I never thought I would meet the love of my life, just a year before I would have to leave her.

That summer we were outside in the sun, joyfully discussing political implications through a chain link fence on the day the United States Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right. I asked her to marry me, and I realized that I was sincere, more than I’d meant to be. I had known her but a few months, and until that dizzy moment, marriage had been an alien and undesirable concept. But in a second’s thought I knew that I would spend the rest of my life with her, if I was lucky.

Our relationship is reluctantly recognized by prison staff. When I was finally allowed to visit her, after waiting well over a year, the mixed reactions of the guards who knew me ranged from astonishment to indignance to delight. We had the visitation room to ourselves, once the orderlies left us alone with the noxious fumes of floor stripper and a radio playing nineties R&B.  I could kiss her, put my arms around her, briefly but blissfully. I will only be happier when I get to take her home with me.

Now we can marry without the threat of retaliation, of being separated or even shipped to different prisons for exercising our right to love one another. But until she is released, our union cannot be complete. We might get a 10-minute ceremony, but no flowers, no families. We’d rather wait to get hitched until we are free to celebrate and consummate our marriage, without committing a crime.

Editorial Response

The editorials we read this week have a few things in common. All of them are highly opinionated, but unlike the opinion pieces we read last week, which shared the author’s unique perspectives and life experiences, the editorials claim an objective viewpoint, that of the American people, or of people in general, or perhaps of general decency. They are all on the attack, calling out wrongs and voicing their moral superiority.

The actual writer of each piece has the privilege of anonymity, or at least partial anonymity, as a member of the editorial board. This collective represents the stance of the publication, and assumes the allegiance of its readers. But it has the same problem as many bylined opinions; it is preaching to the choir.

The piece about international students was the least effective, I think. The author alludes to the problem of starving students but never actually makes any specific claims on behalf of the abused kids. What is an extremely important issue loses its validity in the gradual progress into melodrama, and the negligence of the school’s administration and criminality of the host families get lost in the charge against the exchange company.

The most effective was the USA Today piece about Trump’s lows. In plain and undeniable terms, his failures, his crimes even, are laid out. Even if you think that it is okay for a president to make demeaning and vulgar remarks about women who threaten him (really? do you?), do you think it is okay for him to lie? Like, most of the time? Anyway, in recent news he is sinking lower still, and I am only surprised that anyone is surprised. One thing that is effective about this piece, not evident from the online article, is that the opposing position was represented by a refutable source on the same page. Obviously the editorial board is not concerned for the strength of its collective voice.

AutoBio/Opinion

Opinions are like… well, we all have one. Are we writing for others who would reinforce our views, or are we really expecting others to change theirs? In all of the opinion pieces we read this week, we can glimpse the personal perspectives that shaped the beliefs of each writer. I think the most interesting ones involved subjects on which I didn’t expect to have an opinion (i.e., eggs) and one I was impressed to see the writer expose (spankophilia). These simple and surprising subjects each illumined a worldview largely missed by the mainstream collective consciousness. Each author, by sharing her experience, questions her culture’s unchallenged assignment of shame.

Unfortunately, the least effective article was the one on gun control. Not for the author’s style or his personal experience, but for the fact that after he wrote it, as he predicted, things did get worse. More deadly shootings occurred with guns that were  no safer or harder to obtain. Another former service member with documented red flags was able to buy and use a gun to kill innocent people. His opinions have been reinforced. But still, the opposite side wins out, unhearing of and of course blind to its own shortsightedness. If your writing is honest, and weighty, and true, and it still doesn’t make a difference, what then?

I would like to ask Jenny Alpaugh what started the fire that destroyed her church. Was it arson or electrical? I can’t help but picture a couple of nostalgic, neo-Norwegian, Satan worshipping black metal kids with a can of gasoline and a tube of grease paint. Seriously, though, I wonder if the displaced church has someone to blame, and if so, did they turn the other cheek? My own biases color each opinion piece I read, and I wonder sometimes if I miss the point, or if the point lies somewhere between our differing points of view.