Listen to Fever Ray and learn to recognize the unrecognizable. On one of her new songs, “Looking for a Ghost,” Karin Dreijer plays a melody inspired by Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk,” stacking calliope synths behind the frenetic “eating out / like cannibal” couplet and a quote. by Bob Marley. Then this horny little collage of references slowly takes shape: In her slyly candid way, Dreijer is writing a personal ad. “Looking for someone / With a special kind of smile,” she says. “Teeth like razors/Fingers like spices.” You know, someone who gives you that tingle. Lisbon producer Nídia puts them on a spiral synth and a lurching, jangling rhythm. “Looking for a ghost in the middle of life,” says Dreijer, which could almost be a literal complaint about gay dating in the forties, and then they wink: “Asking for a friend/who’s a little shy.”
Shy or not, we’ve come to know Dreijer better since his days as a shadowy figure with a pickaxe alongside his brother Olof in the heady electronic project The Knife. Like Fever Ray, they synth-pop with mucous membrane and muscle memory, writing songs that launch implausible hooks (“you mustn’t rush”) and chart new orbital paths around grand pop structures. With a title like a college seminar and Dreijer’s trademark combination of perversion and theory, radical romantics it is essentially a collection of notes about love. Love, whether sexy, overwhelming, or vengeful, unites recurring motivations from the Fever Ray catalog: curiosity and exploration, born and chosen in the family, sexual freedom, and pleasure. In the past, perhaps, they have sung about love as something vague and unknowable. Now they are going to search.
In the lead up to the vivid and lusty 2017 Immersion, Dreijer spoke about his dating experiments candidly that it came as a surprise. “I’ve been on Tinder,” they said then, presumably with a twinkle in their eye. Immersion He was no stranger to love, but also called it “the final piece of the puzzle.” Anyone will tell you that to find it, you must first look inside. Like many, Dreijer changed his priorities during the pandemic, saying recently that the past few years have given them space to practice patience. In a modern culture that promotes love as instant gratification (keep swiping), Fever Ray is now looking elsewhere. Referencing the influence of Bell Hooks all about love and gift of the seaIn Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s 1955 spiritual bestseller, Dreijer is on an inward quest through a less often explored region of adult angst.
There’s a typically savvy collection of collaborators: along with Nídia on “Looking for a Ghost,” there’s Olof, whose magical trickery turns the album’s first four tracks into an unofficial and highly anticipated Knife reunion; the English producer Vessel, on the outstanding “Carbon Dioxide”; Aasthma, the production duo of Peder Mannerfelt and Pär Grindvik, on “Tapping Fingers”; and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose chilling industrial moans give Dreijer’s reality the strange thrill of fiction. The baleful mood kicks in on “Even It Out,” a little act of cosmic reckoning: “This is for Zacharias/Who bullied my son in high school/There’s no place for you/And we know where you live !” Dreijer howls. Where Lydia Tár crouches, Dreijer stops. “I do things methodically,” they sneer, cutting the word out as implied violence: “Mmmmm-methodically.”