Like many uncomfortable conversations, Fever Ray‘s album ‘Radical Romantics’ begins with an apology. Their third album – and first in almost six years – begins with the bubbling track, ‘What They Call Us’, co-produced and written with their brother and fellow The Knife member, Olof. They lean in at the start with a hushed confession, “First I like to say that I’m sorry / I’ve done all the tricks that I can”, rattling it out slowly over oscillating tempo and crackling drums. The arrangements are sinister and punctuated with ominous lyrics about yearning, questioning and free-falling into love. Even with its disorienting messages and spiralling composition, the Dreijer duo’s crisp production creates a crisp and biting sonic experience.
It was 2019 when Fever Ray – aka Karin Dreijer – made the decision to make an album about affairs of the heart. Working in the Stockholm studio they built with their brother, the Swedish experimentalist got to work birthing 10 imaginative pop songs. The result is a collection of exhilarating pop vignettes examining love as a preoccupation, an unconstrained struggle and most importantly, a myth. ‘Radical Romantics’ follows Dreijer’s self-titled 2009 debut and 2017’s buoyant ode to infatuation, ‘Plunge’, which NME ranked as one of the top albums of the year.
‘Radical Romantics’ ability to communicate Dreijer’s perspective on love and relationships exquisitely is thanks largely in part to its inventive production. Experimental artist and producer Vessel, Portuguese DJ and producer Nídia are among those lending their purview to the album. Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also produce and perform on two album tracks, lending hints of their industrial rock expertise to ‘Even it Out’, a menacing track featuring Dreijer threatening a school bully, and ‘North’ where the electro-pop singer weighs in on the difficult task of separating someone’s words from their actions.
The brightest and most subversive moments on the album come when Dreijer enlist blunt lyrics and wobbling instrumentals to articulate hard-to-explain emotions flawlessly. ‘Shiver’, a primer on confusing intimate connections captures this effect perfectly. In the trill track, they reiterate “I just want to be touched / I just want to shiver”, following that admission with scattered otherworldly howls. Dreijer’s viewpoint, almost like that of an alien looking down on earth and dissecting interpersonal human relationships from a distance, is also present in ‘Tapping Fingers’, which they call the “saddest song” they’ve ever written. The testament to brutal longing takes place against a backdrop of searing soundscapes, lush synth and outlines a litany of paranoid queries, conveying romance as a ego-shattering event.
In ‘Kandy’, the Dreijers venture back into The Knife production, even using the same synthesizer featured on their track, ‘The Captain’. The four tracks co-produced by Olof (‘What They Call Us’, ‘Shiver’, ‘New Utensils’, ‘Kandy’), are the first time the synth-pop duo have joined forces since 2014, and the result is both refreshing and familiar.
The album ends on ‘Bottom Of The Ocean’, which Karin produced and wrote alone more than two decades ago. The song arrives with echoes flooding out in different vocal ranges right as ethereal instrumentals create a wall around Dreijer’s voice. There are no lyrics in the track, sans the sonorous repeating of “oh”, and it makes for a perfect meditative close for an album, which plays in sound fantastically to capture the full cataclysmic event of being a human and experiencing love.
- Release date: March 10, 2023
- Record label: Rabid Records