Since the beginning of her time as one half of electronic duo The Knife, Karin Dreijer has always had a flair for the theatrical. She and her brother Olof posed in what looked like monkey masks for 2003’s “Deep Cuts,” changing to Venetian masks for 2006’s “Silent Shout” and completing their final shift with long hair totally obscuring their genders for 2013’s “Shaking the Habitual.”
This makes it all the more surprising that for her newest album “Plunge” (released as Fever Ray), for the first time what appears to be her face adorns the cover, sliced to bits in wounds that spell out the band name. It’s yet another transition, and with it comes the return of the most forward-thinking electronic artist working today. She’s the kind of artist who can completely change her sound but still be recognized as her work.
The last time she released an album as Fever Ray, it was 2009, and she had just had her second child. That self-titled album was a transmission from another world: full of laughing magpies, concrete walls, and stark instrumentals as she covered her voice up in modifications. If that album was a reflection of motherhood and the exhaustion from parenting, “Plunge” is near the exact opposite. This is perhaps the most flagrantly sexual and kinky album of the year — which makes sense, considering the album roll out was accompanied by changes to her social media page advertising a phone number for something called Karma Kinksters.
No story exists on the album itself, but what does is aggressive music, resembling pop but twisted and mutated through her own lens. Even the most conventional track — single “To The Moon and Back” — ends with the most graphic come-on she’s ever uttered, and somehow it still aches with longing and romanticism.
Whereas “Shaking the Habitual” was pointedly alienating in its droning sounds, “Plunge” at least attempts to center itself on Earth. Her voice isn’t quite as shifted, but she still puts unique spins on the words she sings. Just listen to the way she almost seems to mimic “99 Luftballons” on “IDK About You” while the drum beats skitter in the background, courtesy of producer Nidia.
On “This Country,” she nearly moans as she complains, “That’s not how to love me.” “This Country” also contains the clearest definition of her politics: “Free abortions / Clean Water / Destroy Nuclear / Destroy Boring.” It’s not hard to think about our own country when she ends the song by proclaiming “This country makes it hard to f—”; not just in terms of abortion, but also of being queer.
Way back on “Deep Cuts,” Dreijer was coyly suggesting incest through lyrics like “I’m in love with your brother.” Here, she’s freeing herself and submitting to desire, taking everyone else along for the ride. It’s unpredictable and exhilarating to hear someone so unafraid about their own desires and sexual needs. Even more exciting is seeing so many female producers on one album: every track is co-produced by Dreijer along with up and coming producers like Deena Abdelwahed and Paula Temple. They punctuate it with industrial sounds and hazy instrumentals, sounding close enough to pop and club music to draw you in before it pulls the rug out from under you. “Mustn’t Hurry” could almost be a Purity Ring song — fitting since they also share a lyrical interest in body horror.
While “Plunge” may not have the same surreal draw to the lyrics as “Fever Ray” or even “Silent Shout,” it more than makes up for it in its exploration of kink and love, of what it feels like to need someone; “Setting the snow on fire” as she describes in “Red Trails.” Dreijer has made her most free album yet, and it’s an effortless transition from one persona to the next, protest music for BDSM proponents. Wherever she decides to go from here, it will be by her own rules.