Plunge feels more immediate and open than Fever Ray’s debut.
Karin Dreijer has always taken her time. It took seven years for her former band, The Knife, to trade the frigid sounds of Silent Shout for the dense and unforgiving slab of avant-garde dance music that was Shaking the Habitual. Add to this the first, self-titled Fever Ray album, and it’s obvious Dreijer doesn’t care about what you want or when you want it. So it makes sense that, after an 8-year silence, Fever Ray’s second album, Plunge, has arrived as a complete surprise after a week of tiny teasers.
It sounds like a Dreijer project from its very first note. The opening drone of “Wanna Sip” imbues the same dread and uneasiness that made the best Knife songs so compelling. Just 13 seconds in, with no time to let any of that dread build, the beat snaps into place and builds into maximalist terror-rhythms with the sound of Aphex Twin and the emotion of John Carpenter. You get a sense for the album’s theme pretty quickly: “I’m kinda hooked on your scent.”
There’s something about Dreijer that doesn’t feel quite human. Her voice, her inflection, her word choice and her sentence structure all feel like they’re coming from someone raised by wolves and only now learning how to be human. Sexuality is a common focus and Dreijer refuses to sugarcoat: “This country makes it hard to fuck,” she shrieks on the sonically gut-wrenching “This Country.” She doubles down at the end of “To the Moon and Back”: “First I take you then you take me/ Breathe some life into a fantasy/ Your lips, warm and fuzzy/ I want to ram my fingers up your pussy.”
That’s from the lead single off Plunge. Dreijer is as always unafraid to put her sexuality on display, yet no matter how many times she does, it’s easy to feel jarred. By the time you reach the album’s fourth track, “Falling,” about “A queer healing,” you get used to it. Sex and gender may be the album’s primary theme, but she doesn’t always beat you over the head with it. Still, she can’t turn off what turns her on .
Plunge ebbs and flows in ways that remind us that Dreijer’s albums have always been impeccably sequenced. It would be easy to crank up to 11 on every track, but she knows the value of restraint. “Wanna Sip” and its menacing breakbeats lead into the gentle “Mustn’t Hurry,” which espouses such patience. Though even when she’s gentle she can cut like a knife: “Drove out in the morning/ Where shame is going to burn/ Shame is going to die”—a cruicial turn on an album about sex.
While the album strongest on its more reserved tracks, some of the best moments are during the album’s back half, when things become more sonically perverse . Gander at the Japanese RPG villain leitmotif beats that shamble their way through “This Country,” or the Adderal drum machine rhythm of “IDK About You.” Plunge doesn’t want you to hold it too close or for too long, but when it gives you a really good look at what makes it tick, it’s immensely rewarding.
“Red Stains” is the album’s high point and perhaps the most stunning track she’s ever recorded, icy beats and a single, haunting violin setting the backdrop for the kind of oblique breakup song that only Dreijer could write. Her voice is slightly obscured at first, but as with the gorgeously-crafted “Marble House” on Silent Shout, she inevitably drops the shroud to expose herself completely: “Blood was our favorite paint/ You were my favorite pain/ Waiting for your love to happen/ Is like waiting for a drug that never kicks in.” But following this, on “An Itch,” Dreijer’s blown-out vocals are nearly drowned out by a punishing, jagged beat that’s almost headache-inducing. Of course, this seems to speak to the fine line between pain and pleasure: “Imagine: touched by somebody who loves you.”
As one might imagine from its themes, Plunge feels more immediate and open than Fever Ray’s debut. While that was a more patient ride through Dreijer’s mind, this examines what happens when a fearless artist sets out to make a pop record. She’s succeeded with an engaging, album that’s fascinating and thoroughly catchy.