Loving pop music means loving all pop music, or at least our ambiguous modern definition of it. For every "Teenage Dream" there's a "Call Your Girlfriend," for every "Safety Dance," there's a "Cloudbusting" – it's all in the same breath, both exploding and refining sugar in a space that is made for everyone, even if we don't always agree on its refinement. Throughout Karin Dreijer's musical career, both solo as Fever Ray and with her brother Olof in The Knife, she's been both sincere and conniving with respect to pop music, deeply respecting the craft in order to communicate an insurgent (yet often life-affirming) proclamation, drawn in bright colors.
Released in 2013, The Knife's Shaking The Habitual blew out queer theory and radical politics in what was its most nerve-shredding album yet (and, perhaps, its last). That's why the draw of Dreijer's previous solo album as Fever Ray, released eight years ago, was how much it drew our experience into her own -- where The Knife increasingly screamed its themes, Fever Ray turned her insides out in sometimes surreal, but always striking language. However cloaked in velvet electronics and cryptic lyrics, Fever Ray held the listener close to its heart — oblique, but darkly sweet.
Fever Ray's Plunge, teased just under two weeks ago and now released in full, is Karin Dreijer at her most vulnerable and powerful, a righteous reclamation of kink that extends a knowing invitation. Across 11 tracks of coquettish synth-pop cut with neon, Dreijer is not just frank about her sexual desires, but how she desires them — with consent, with trust, with pain, with love.
"Inside the architecture of repetition that constitutes both a song and a life, taken objectively and not subjectively, there are resonances, assurances, bonds and securities," Dreijer writes in an essay published Thursday, announcing Plunge. "Sex and music stand guard over a shared silence under the noise, either because there is nothing or too much to say. It is still possible to negotiate between pain and pleasure, on the vanishing edges of pain and of pleasure, as if cutting a deal, the best deal, a beautiful deal."
This is Dreijer's zone — the trickster land of between, but raised to the frequency of a beating heart.
Recorded in her Stockholm studio, both Peder Mannerfelt and Johannes Berglund — who have worked with Fever Ray and The Knife, respectively — are sympathetic producers who understand how both bubbly and cracked textures can tease out the wild hair of a great pop song. The rattle and hum of opener "Wanna Sip" stirs anticipation with low-lying synths as Dreijer yips and coos, and suddenly bursts like a siren from the shadows. The gloriously explicit first single "To The Moon And Back" is also Plunge's most uproariously fun, clipped and chirping synths subdividing Dreijer's elongated croon as she smiles, "Your lips / Warm and fuzzy / I want to run my fingers up your p****."
But Plunge is also the first time that Dreijer has worked with producers outside her orbit, most notably, a group of women from across the electronic music spectrum. Deena Abdelwahed, who makes futuristic club music inspired by her homeland of Tunisia, stitches and loops a short sample into "An Itch" that mutates like a blazing blob, amassing detritus and growing in bassy noise like Depeche Mode on a merry-go-round gone rogue. "A Part Of Us" features production from Mannerfelt and Berglund, but co-writing/production credits by the Berlin-based Tami T as well, whose emotional EDM-pop here fizzles through AutoTune and machine-gun glitz. The Portuguese-born, Bordeaux-raised NÍDIA released her debut album in June, and brings her soulful take on the frenetic electronic music known as batida to "IDK About You." Dreijer sounds downright giddy pinching and expanding her voice to NÍDIA's joyously erratic rhythms, but also gives the beats tons of space to play.
"When you want to work in a feminist process," Dreijer told NPR in 2013, "it has been so important to create these collaborations to not feel so alone and also to have these kind of autonomous areas where you can work with your ideas and not have to struggle with the patriarchy on the outside, kind of, but to have this autonomous safe zones."
"We have to rewrite history because there is so many people missing in history," she continued, echoing the feminist historian Susan Pedersen, who wrote that we must "recover the lives, experiences, and mentalities of women from the condescension and obscurity in which they have been so unnaturally placed, and on the other to reexamine and rewrite the entire historical narrative to reveal the construction and workings of gender."
Dreijer wrote and co-produced much of these tracks, stamping these women's names on art that is fun, subversive, sexy, weird and queer as hell. It's not all bizzaro bangers, though, as Paula Temple — who normally makes noisy techno in Berlin — takes on Fever Ray's most reflective tracks with producer Johannes Berglund: "Mustn't Hurry," the violin-threaded "Red Trails" (which contains Dreijer's most striking couplet: "Blood was our favorite paint / You were my favorite pain") and album closer "Mama's Hand."
"Mama's Hand" is perhaps the most direct link to 2009's self-titled album. That solo debut was made in the sleep-deprived state of motherhood, and while it hardly mentioned a newborn, the promise of progeny was felt. With bright flute synths clicked into a brooding hypnosis, here Dreijer comes back from the club and heads home, thinking about family and acknowledging a future empty nest: "Need some time to understand / The idea of a mama's hand / When your story unfolds." Just as Karin Dreijer seeks liberation throughout Plunge, she still knows the final piece of puzzle is "a little thing called love."
Plunge is out now digitally, with vinyl and CD out Feb. 23, 2018 via Mute and Rabid Records (pre-order).