Radical Romantics sees one of music’s favourite provocateurs return to us as Fever Ray. After a five-year break from the alias, we finally get a third chapter in the mysterious, experimental pop landscape few can create as brilliantly as Karin Dreijer. This new collection of characteristically dark electro-synth-driven songs are here to explore the struggle of love.
The album begins with ‘What They Call Us’. A single which was released back in October, accompanied by a wonderfully curious and eerily dystopian-styled music video. Throughout the song, a tense, evocative beat, reminiscent of The Knife, holds us in a corner as Dreijer’s resentful-sounding vocals ask us “Did you hear what they call us / Did you hear what they said?”. It’s a powerful yet vulnerable-sounding opening track. It’s the initial challenge of self-reflection by Dreijer on the album, a theme that continues throughout.
It would be a mistake when attempting to fully appreciate these songs to ignore that Dreijer is not only famous for their musical brilliance but also their willingness to confront issues they see in everyday society. They fly the flag for socialist, feminist and genderqueer politics – and this latest album is no different. Continuing to touch on ‘What They Call Us’, when we look closely at the lyrics it becomes apparent a larger message is here. Perhaps one crafted to deal with the wrongful, increasingly dangerous demonization of queer culture, especially trans people, across the world today.
Worth noting is an unexpected and exciting addition to Fever Ray’s return. After eight years, their former Knife bandmate and brother Olof Dreijer has joined up with Karin to cowrite and produce on some of the tracks. Alongside the famous pairing sees a wealth of other collaborators, featuring offerings from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, experimental artist and producer Vessel, Aasthma and Portuguese DJ and producer Nídia.
Focusing on the partnership of Olof and Karin however, ‘Kandy’ is another standout track on the album. It’s one The Knife fans will feel a little nostalgic listening to. It reintroduces the same steel-drum synths found in the early work of the duo. Speaking previously about the song, Olof shared “I tried to tune in as much as possible into Fever Ray vibes and tried many different styles, or clothes as I usually say when I talk about different music production suggestions. But in the end, we took out the same synthesizer, the SH101, used for the Knife track, ‘The Captain,’ and it just worked!”. Alternatively, when Karin Dreijer was asked about the song and its make-up, they described how they wanted it to be “this seducing, slow song”, going on to describe how they told Olof when creating the sound – “imagine Julio Iglesias” to which he immediately understood and thus ‘Kandy’ was born.
A genuine highlight on Radical Romantics comes on the ninth track, titled ‘Tapping Fingers’. It’s here I believe Fever Ray to be at the height of their powers with a flirtatious synth-pop ballad, speaking both to the heart and the head, the dance floor and the bedroom, about the kind of love found during a one-night stand. It’s shrouded in an atmospheric melody and accompanied by a plethora of multi-layered velvet electronics and hauntingly beautiful vocals that we have come accustomed to knowing on Fever Ray albums.
As a whole, this album is a dark, intriguingly sweet electro-pop success. It’s an unexpected but triumphant change in pace from the crowning jewel that was Plunge back in 2017. It’s an area we wouldn’t have thought to find Karin Dreijer – the simple love song – however they serve it up in their naturally nonconformist way. They challenge preconceptions, they nurse our need for rhythm and offer up a new unfiltered and unapologetically honest version of the love story, revelling in its splendour and reviling in its flaws.
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