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.”