The Knife frontwoman’s second solo album is an aural orgy – more frantic, more primal and more erotically-charged than anything she’s released before
Karin Dreijer has always been on a mission to disrupt. Whether questioning corrupt politicians and turning her pitch-shifted vocals to radical feminism as part of iconic duo The Knife; or creating brooding, spectral electronica under the guise of solo project Fever Ray, Dreijer remains one of the most singular and creatively valuable voices in the music industry today. Eight years after releasing her debut as Fever Ray – a hauntingly beautiful record laden with twisted references to death, depression and motherhood – she returned last week with a surprise new album, Plunge.
The opening seconds of “Wanna Sip” instantaneously tell us that a lot has changed over the last few years. It’s more frantic, more primal and more erotically-charged than its predecessor, although the first track only hints at the aural orgy to come: “I’m kinda hooked on your scent,” she sings as synths swoop around her distorted vocals. “Something made a little opening / I wanna come inside.”
And come inside she does. Over the course of eleven tracks, we see Dreijer’s desire bloom into filthy, deliciously queer fantasies tinged with a shame which never succeeds in overriding pure, carnal pleasure. Plunge is a sex-soaked ode to non-normative desires which, quite frankly, could not come at a better time. After all, these desires are still weaponised against queer communities worldwide. In some countries, it can get us locked up, beaten or executed; in others, it’s used to imply us as perverts, keeping us away from children (remember Section 28?) and far, far away from ‘sacred’ institutions like marriage – which, statistics show, straight people fuck up most of the time anyway. There’s still a guilt attached to queerness which means that society refuses to teach us how to love, how to fuck and how to deal with the discrimination levelled at us in both explicit and implicit ways on a daily basis.
This is precisely why Dreijer’s celebration of all things kinky is both brilliant and brilliantly unexpected. Teaser clips gave us a hint at what was to come – one, entitled “A New Friend”, allowed us a peek inside a threadbare sex dungeon which is more Jigsaw than Babestation. Here, we meet a latex-clad protagonist painted in crumbling white, answering personal calls on a stiletto-shaped phone and cackling at potential suitors with enough ferocity to kill most boners.
Dreijer’s distinctive vision of extreme, perverse erotica was pushed even further with the creepy but brilliantly bizarre video for “To The Moon And Back”, the only full-length track released before the album. Here, we are greeted once again by the same protagonist, who takes us on a wild journey up an escalator, through some Stars In Their Eyes-style mist and into a food-fuelled orgy. As our hero is tied up, fed cake and eventually pissed on by a supporting cast dressed up in live flowers and muscle suits, we hear Dreijer’s restless vocals intone the most sexually explicit request of her career to date: “I want to run my fingers up your pussy.”
Despite being the first single to be officially released, this song is strategically-placed in the latter half of the album. Plunge offers a narrative that builds and dips, ebbs and flows; it’s a voyage of discovery, of both the realisation of prejudice and the decision to issue a firm “fuck you” to this prejudice and run your fingers (consensually, of course) up that pussy anyway.
A handful of tracks become pivotal throughout this narrative, one of which is “Falling”. Dreijer alludes to the importance of this song in a manifesto which which accompanied the album’s announcement: “The decision to fall is harder than the fall itself,” she wrote. Sonically, the production is abrasive, almost apocalyptic; dystopian beats cluster around Dreijer’s wounded vocals: “That old feeling of shame… She makes me feel dirty again.”
Lyrically, this struggle to accept “queer healing” acts as a bridge to “This Country”, another album highlight. Here, we see Dreijer move past shame and firmly into frustration: “This country makes it hard to fuck!” It’s unclear here which country Dreijer is referring to. It could be her native Sweden – described earlier this year as “the most alt-right country in Europe.” It may be her adopted home Germany, where homophobic hate crime is on the rise. Her words are ambiguous yet depressingly universal; for queer people in even the most progressive pockets of the Western world, life is still more difficult than it should be. Elsewhere, 76 countries still legally persecute homosexuality. The scale of the problem might vary, but Dreijer’s sentiment is still applicable.
Even in the United States – the supposed land of the free – conservative men in positions of power – some of whom, ironically, are partial to the occasional pussy grab themselves – are rescinding queer rights at breakneck speeds, working alongside equally bigoted men who, ‘jokingly’, want to hang gay people. Hate crimes are on the rise. Trans women – specifically trans women of colour – are being murdered at higher rates than ever before (many others are deadnamed, meaning that even now we don’t know the full extent of the problem). Nothing can quash an orgasm quite like widespread prejudice, fucked-up politicians and societal injustice; Dreijer knows this. Still, she comes hurtling full-throttle through this period of self-shame and confusion, emerging first as a nihilistic kinkster and then as a woman in love. “Imagine: touched by somebody who loves you,” she sings on “An Itch”, before closing the album with “Mama’s Hand”, a comparatively delicate climax on which she pleads with an ambiguous woman to “please, please stay.” It’s a touching end to a complex, messy journey which symbolically narrates the various stages of accepting and embracing queerness in a world determined to stamp it out.
It’s important to acknowledge here that queerness and kink aren’t synonymous; we aren’t all begging to be tied up, pissed on and then fucked. Still, BDSM and fetish are distinctly ‘queer’ sex acts in that they exist in extreme opposition to the crap, vanilla sex we’re told we should be having. Kink is stigmatised, demonised because it goes against the grain; this, in and of itself, means that it always ‘queers’ what we deem to be normal sex. Dreijer uses this extreme to support her politically-charged message: “Destroy boring!” she screams on “This Country”, advocating a shift towards a beautifully depraved queer future. This ideology is buoyed by the accompanying visuals which are so abrasive and soundtracked by lyrics so explicit that it’s obvious she’s pushing us, deliberately trying to twist, queer and fuck up whatever we think of as normal.
The decision to plunge into Fever Ray’s erotically-charged world is one we can only take if we are willing to surrender our minds and bodies as we delve into the mist. It’s an invitation to embrace our darkest desires, to dive into a world of fantasy, fetish and fucking as escapism from the political dystopia slowly closing in on us and strangling our queerness. Ultimately, it’s a bold yet timely statement to all the politicians making it harder for us to fuck. Dreijer stands alongside us to tell the morally corrupt in positions of power that they won’t win: we’re here, we’re queer and we’ll continue to “breathe life into our fantasies” whether you like it or not.