Calxie #5: Wish you were here – albums that sound like places.
Ok, I’ll say a word and you list the things most associated with that word (don’t expect me to react though because I can’t hear you): Scandinavia. You thought of snowy pines, rolling hills, fjords, log cabins, cold lakes, Teutonic architecture and bacon. Well, at least that’s what I think of; you don’t really get a say in this after all. Had you just said the phrase “Fever Ray” then I would have got the jist of what was on your mind (except bacon; if you thought of bacon listening to this then you’re just weird). Even without Karin Dreijer Andersson’s strong accent – accentuating every “oo” and “ee” and turning every “I’ll” into “ayell” – it still brings to mind the beautifully arid landscapes of her home of Sweden. It starts with what sounds like the rattling moan of a Finnish sauna, with Andersson’s voice pitch-shifted down several degrees till it sounds like some asthmatic Norse spirit. But enough of the regional similes; these icy songs are always, most definitely, “songs” and not “pieces”, but they’ve always got a strong atmosphere that shows a clear ambient influence throughout. These songs may not be earworms to the point of you can’t get them out of your head and they become annoying, but they are effective and emotive enough that you’ll always want to return to them. Andersson herself is always a commanding presence whether she’s singing in her almost girlish alto (the utterly joyous atmos-pop of ‘When I Grow Up’) or her pitch-shifted rasp (the spooky ‘Concrete Walls’ in which she sounds as if the tape bearing her voice is being stretched as it is played); these two personae interact in a strange unearthly duet on the opener ‘If I Had A Heart’.
Fever Ray’s one-woman project sounds as innovative and strange as it does familiar which, as plenty will tell you, is an absolute winner as far as pop music is concerned. People like dependable familiarity (just ask the listeners of Magic FM), but while it’s easy to feel accustomed to Fever Ray’s songs almost as soon as they begin, they’re also suitably alien enough that they still sound exciting and escapist. My personal favourite, ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’, comes at the LP’s tail end and seems to have achieved the strange feat of condensing the lung-chilling soundlessness of a deserted moon-lit city into a pop song. If I can stop being clinical and analytical for a moment, this is a perfect record; a modern classic that will sound brilliant as long as there are ears to hear it. Buy it, please.