Now receiving a physical release a few months after its surprise digital arrival, Plunge is the second solo album from The Knife’s Karin Dreijer, otherwise known as Fever Ray. In the eight years between her self-titled debut and Plunge, Dreijer’s personal life underwent seismic changes as she got divorced from her husband after many years together. Recently describing herself as, “Gender-fluid”, there are definite hints within much of the album of a new-found sexual exploration and freedom. Especially considering her previous reticence about discussing personal matters in interviews or in song, it is a noticeable shift in openness. By dwelling on that too much, however, there is a risk in missing just how cutting-edge and progressive this album is musically.
As one half of the brother-sister duo that form The Knife, there has always been an experimental nature to Dreijer’s music. On Plunge, that same creative instinct has forged some of the most interesting electronic music of recent years. The album begins with ‘Wanna Sip’, a track with a throbbing, pulsing slab of bass at its heart that sends deep ripples emanating out through the air. Meanwhile, synths dive throughout, shrieking like devastating V2 bombs in a truly gripping start. From there, much of the album excels at taking something familiar and ripping it up, before reconstructing it in a newer, fresher form. ‘Mustn’t Hurry’ takes much from tropical house, but initially strips all warmth and pace from it while the simplicity of lyrics mask an intricacy of sound. However, as Dreijer sings: “I really need a beast to feed, licking my fingers…my curiosity found a cavity, and something to stick in”, the temperature quickly rises.
While more overt electropop moments such as ‘A Part Of Us’ still contain a dazzling array of beats and effects, ‘Falling’ utilises mechanical effects to form a soundscape akin to a dystopian nightmare. It calls back to The Knife’s most experimental moments, sounding like something that an AI unit would create. Singing of: “A queer healing”, Dreijer also refers to a situation where: “That old feeling of shame/she makes me feel dirty again”. Throughout much of Plunge, there are many references to a defiance of societal norms – most obviously on ‘This Country’ where she states a wish to “Destroy nuclear, destroy boring”. Directly challenging the notion of the traditional ‘nuclear family’, it is a savage take-down of America’s attitude to sexual freedom and anything other than a heterosexual relationship – but, as she states: “Every time we fuck, we win”.
That confrontational approach extends to her vocals – whereas they were buried in the mix at times on her debut, here they are thrillingly in your face. In ‘IDK About You’, the vocals are so raw that the combination with tribal drumbeats makes for a huge sweaty and sexy club banger. Similarly with the irresistible ‘An Itch’ and ‘Mama’s Hand’, all of the elements of massive club tracks are present but are cleverly reformed until they sound like nothing else. ‘Red Trails’ on the other hand explores a whole new world, containing a gorgeous filmic quality. With electronic beats over a hypnotic violin piece from Sara Parkman, it slows the pace beautifully.
There is so much to unpack and explore here that even after three months, the feeling remains that much is still left to discover. Much of what Dreijer sings about is deliberately open to personal interpretation, while the music has so many entrancing and gripping layers to it that it may take another eight years to digest fully. After what has unquestionably been a hugely important period in Karin Dreijer’s life, her closing words on Plunge give a hint of closure. “I’m yours to rock in place, I write to be at ease, the final puzzle piece, this little thing called love”. Whether or not she has found what she is looking for yet is unclear, but it seems to be the surest sign that she is ready to take the plunge once more.