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Fever Ray is the title, of both project and album, an evocation of the music’s sound, intense and anxious, yet luminous. It’s the culmination of work that began in 2007 when Karin and Olof, the brother-sister duo who are The Knife, decided to take time out following a handful of incredible live shows. Their first two albums did well in their Swedish homeland; their third, Silent Shout, went to Number One, won six Swedish Grammys, underlined their reputation as an act capable of the truly extraordinary and was pronounced the best record of 2006 by Pitchfork. Karin needed a break – she was about to have her second child – but couldn’t stop writing.
The result is Fever Ray, an album that, while recognisably the work of the same artist, is dramatically different from The Knife. It’s still constructed on electronic foundations and embellished with traditional instrumentation (guitar here, congas there), but Fever Ray is starker, moodier, in places quite sombre - less an invasion, more a slow process of colonisation. Not that you’ll find anything so literal in the lyrics.
Her distinctive writing process is at its most striking in ‘Seven’, where a succession of stories - some real, some imagined, but all tangentially related to that number – are obliquely referenced. That’s the way Karin writes; just enough detail to sketch the outline and splash some colour without becoming mired in anything too specific. As she says herself in the song: “I know it, I think I know it from a hymn/ They’ve said so, it doesn’t need more explanation.”
“I prefer lyrics that are like that,” she says, “I like to keep it as minimal as possible. I like films the same way, ones with very little dialogue, such as the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki (Leningrad Cowboys Go America), I think he’s fantastic. It’s very important to keep the magic and the feeling of something you can draw yourself. You don’t want to be too literal.”
Thus ‘I’m Not Done’, one of Fever Ray’s more upbeat moments, only reveals its true meaning in its title, a gesture of defiance against Karin’s own thoughts of retirement. “That was the last song I wrote and in contrast to many tracks that are more about anxiety and depression, that one is very full of life,” she says. “Sometimes, when you’re as old as I am now, you think you’re going to quit, and people around you think you’re going to quit. But then you have days when you realise how good music can be, there’s so much left to explore and so much left to do. That’s why I sometimes feel I’ll never quit.”