By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
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The Knife’s 2006 opus, Silent Shout, stood out that year as an immersive, deeply spooky experience that ignored the notion that albums are dying out. It wasn’t merely an album, either, but a whole wicked universe unto itself. It’s understandable, then, if Knife fans were disappointed to see Swedish siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer take an extended hiatus from the band following the breakthrough that garnered them six of Sweden’s Grammis Awards. Fortunately, Andersson has stepped out on her own as Fever Ray, releasing a self-titled record on Mute earlier this year. As with the Knife’s output, Fever Ray is a floating landscape of detached programming, pitch-shifted vocals and icy pop.
“We decided we needed a break,” says Andersson of the Knife, which formed in 1999. “Both of us wanted to go into our own studios and work on our own for a while. So then this happened.” Before starting on what would become Fever Ray’s debut, she also gave birth to her second child. Once she turned back to music, it took a year of work until it was time to mix the album. “I worked very much every day, from early morning to afternoon,” she recalls, “so for me, it’s more than a full-time job.”
That job, so to speak, kept Andersson fairly close to home, working in a nearby basement studio. She primarily used software to build the spindly skeleton of Fever Ray, but she had a guitar on hand as well; the album seamlessly integrates stark electronics with analog instrumentation. “It’s very nice to put some warmth into the more digital sounds,” Andersson acknowledges, adding that the album was mixed in a studio with vintage analog equipment. “I think that’s a good way to blend them.”
After building the album alone, she brought in the Knife mixer Christoffer Berg and the production duo Van Rivers & the Subliminal Kid. Berg supplied her with specific sounds, such as a well-placed hi-hat, to insert into her creations as she saw fit, while her other collaborators replaced some of the album’s drum programming with more analog drum sounds. Then, the four of them mixed the album together, giving it an unbroken feel. Still, the music is consistently beguiling, from the spongy synths and chiming percussion of “Triangle Walks” to the ghostly haze hanging behind the arcing single “Grow Up” to the bottom-heavy opener “If I Had a Heart.”
The most arresting facet to Fever Ray, however, is the chilling transformation of Andersson’s voice via pitch-shifting software. Her gorgeous, already-ethereal singing bends and blurs and distorts in unexpected directions, sounding alternately like a husky man, an aged woman, a squeaky child and something more alien. The Knife have used the same effect since their inception a decade ago, but that doesn’t make Fever Ray’s any less potent.
“It’s still a very interesting way to investigate gender,” agrees Andersson, “and to really find out what you find female and what you find male and how you expect a woman or a man to sound. When you transform the vocals, it really starts new ideas. You get a little confused because how you see a man and how you see a woman [are] very conservative and strict. It’s interesting to work with deconstruction of gender in that way.”
Gender-bending aside, that’s not necessarily why the ability to alter her voice is so appealing. “It’s more about keeping with the initial idea of the track,” she explains. “What kind of story should be told, and what’s the best way to do it. Sometimes it’s through some kind of transformed vocal because then the initial idea gets more direct and clear. That’s how I work with the production also, to find a space and atmosphere where the whole song takes place. The vocal is just a part of that.”
By the same token, Andersson wasn’t concerned with making Fever Ray, which tours as a five-piece band and has yielded four cinematic videos featuring actors lip-synching her vocals, distinct from the Knife. “I didn’t think so much about what was going on,” she says. As for crafting an album that so naturally balances the abstract and the accessible, she reveals a simple motivation behind the songs: “I just want to make them good.”
Fever Ray with Vuk at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Tues., 8 p.m. $30. All ages.