Eight years after Karin Dreijer’s eponymous debut under her Fever Ray guise, her second solo album is a career retrospective, a full inventory of everything in her arsenal sharpened down to a concise 47-minute declaration of war on 2017. That’s not just a metaphor—“Wanna Sip” is followed by the even more apocalyptic “Mustn’t Hurry,” which repeats observations like “Saw the blood but it’s not scary” before a chorus about “babies pushing boundaries” that could refer to either our stunted, pussy-grabbing president or a new generation of Nazi-intolerant freedom fighters born to stop him.
Dreijer’s career—both solo and with her brother Olof in the Knife—has rarely been predictable. Yet Plunge has an inevitability to it—Dreijer draws from the palette we’ve come to expect from her (alternately drab and buzzing synth tones, Björk-style vocal cadences and ululations) and sings about the topics we expect her to (how queer, queer sex intersects with oppression). The harmonized synths and unsettled atmosphere of the “Mustn’t Hurry”/“A Part of Us” sequence reconfigure the greatest hooks from her most acclaimed album, the Knife’s Silent Shout, into a lockjawed glitch war, while the frenetic, un-programmed Brazilian rhythms of “IDK About You” recall the giddily sexual body music of the duo’s swan song Shaking the Habitual and their excellent posthumous Live at Terminal 5 (released just last month).
Fever Ray was a significantly more muted affair, exploring moods and synth shadings beneath the neon-pinball glow of such then-benchmark Knife standards as “We Share Our Mother’s Health” and “Like a Pen.” Plunge, which surprise-arrived last Friday, sounds almost nothing like it. The twitchy clacking of the glorious first single “To the Moon and Back” has more in common with the Knife, and its effervescent synths evoke the Knife’s most accessible moment, the almost Robyn-like 2002 sugar-shot “Heartbeats,” though the song’s closing line—“I want to run my fingers up your pussy”—is more akin to the outwardly political note of Shaking the Habitual.
Plunge’s lurching, creeping centerpiece, “This Country,” brings Dreijer’s two selves together into one faction. The album begins with the line “I wanna love you but I’m not making it easy,” from “Wanna Sip,” quickly simplified into “I wanna love you but it’s not easy.” And five tracks later, “This Country” treats this like a riddle, with Dreijer responding “It’s not hard to love me,” pinching up her nostrils to sound like the “kid” from Ween’s “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down).” But the punchline, and the album’s theme statement, cuts so many ways: “This country makes it hard to fuck.”
In those seven words, Dreijer captures our frozen lake of a healthcare system, our Nazis in the streets, our frustrating inability to communicate everyday needs and the joys of being alive all in one cybernetic monster-truck rally where the wrong cars win. In the high rasp of her voice, the physical motor functions of her beats, and her thoughtful slogan-subverting, she presents an alternate, hopeful reality down the other side of the rabbit hole.
“Plunge” itself is a wordless instrumental; she leaves that one up to us. No one ever said her love would be easy.