The first few droplets of sound seem expectant but afraid, a curious repetitive beat hovering slowly while a delicate synth purrs and curls up underneath. There’s a sense of early morning, of emerging from a restless night, with all the promise and fragility of a new day. “After the night when I wake up / I’ll see what tomorrow brings” comes that familiar, disembodied voice.
Fever Ray is the solo outing of the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson and it’s appropriate that ‘If I Had a Heart’, the album’s opening track, feels slightly hesitant to emerge into the sunlight. After the incredible success of the Knife’s third album, Silent Shout, Dreijer took time out from the band she and her brother Olof Dreijer had dedicated a decade to and went about creating Fever Ray in the months surrounding the birth of her second child. The Knife’s chilling electronics have sometimes felt like the mystery between sleep and awake, but this time she has fully entered the realm, choosing the actual exhausted moments of her new parent self to document when reality and imagination tease each other.
As Dreijer herself puts it, “Half of what the songs are about is the subconscious, ideas of things happening. A lot of it is like daydreaming, dreaming when you’re awake, but tired; a lot of stories come from that world. I try to write when I‘m in that state - I’m very bad at remembering later, so I have to do it right away.”
The result is astounding. Fans of Dreijer’s previous work will recognise many of the hallmarks of the Knife – certainly the textural instrumentalism, lifting chimes and crow-black, ghostly vocals – but where the Knife choose to shift between slivers of enchantment and intimidating mischief, Fever Ray is a much more solemn affair; broody and cold, restless and hungry.
Like sleep exhaustion itself everything seems in slow motion. ‘If I Had A Heart’, ‘Keep the Streets Empty for Me’ and ‘Dry and Dusty’ crawl and snake around you, all whispering synths and warm, temptuous beats. On ‘Concrete Walls’ Dreijer adusts the pitch of her voice to such a depth it’s released as a slow, yawning plea for rest, begging for the TV or radio to lull her to sleep.
The dream-like state is beautifully explored on the startling ‘When I Grow Up’, Dreijer providing childlike fantasies over the throbbing, oozing melody (“When I grow up / I want to be a forester / Run through the moss on high heels”) before luscious chimes descend to the quivering finale.
Fever Ray so chillingly embodies the twisting consciousness in which Dreijer has so delicately immersed herself, that it feels at times almost invasive to listen in – and enjoy – such dangling emotion. Yet throughout there are also moments where you recognise Dreijer’s endearing satisfaction and awe with the enjoyment motherhood brings. “Dangling feet from window frame / Will they ever reach the floor” she coos on ‘If I Had A Heart’, while the delicious ‘Seven’ describes the urban bond between old friends. “I’ve got a friend who I’ve known since I was seven … We talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets, illness / and we dream about heaven”.
A wave of voices on the majestic ‘Coconut’ usher you to Fever Ray’s close and there’s a suggestion that Dreijer has also finished her journey, allowing herself to finally “Lay back with a big cigar”. In the end you feel just as exhausted, but like waking from an intense dream you instantly want to re-explore everything, and it reminds you of the line in Peter Pan where Tinkerbell says, “You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you, Peter Pan. That's where I'll be waiting”.