Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Fever Ray‘s eponymous debut shouldn’t really have come as too much of a surprise to anyone – Karin Dreijer had, after all, been doing a lot of this kind of thing with her brother in The Knife for nearly a decade. But if you hadn’t heard those bizarre Nordic vocals before, you were in for something rather special here.

Fever Ray opens with the debut single If I Had a Heart, which is dark and dreamy, deeply melancholic, and almost directionless. It’s an odd opener, both for her solo career and for the album, but it does give you a decent idea of what’s going to happen here.

When I Grow Up is a bit more like it – the vocals, which stay just on the right side of the line between challenging and annoying, speak of a child’s dreams and nightmares. The gentle instrumentation somehow warps and wails in the background while complementing the lyrics and vocal delivery well. It’s really rather good.

At worst, this album is always an interesting listen – Dry and Dusty

But it’s on the next track, the final single Seven, where Fever Ray‘s brilliance really starts to shine through. The lyrics are either imaginative or total nonsense, but it’s definitely catchy. Third single Triangle Walks is great too, although it wouldn’t have sounded entirely out of place on an album from about 1987.

Half way through the album, and you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. The lyrics are hard to discern anyway, and when you can make them out, they don’t really stand up to a lot of scrutiny, but the heavily processed vocals are always interesting. The instrumentation, with wailing instrumentation, is unfailingly beautiful too. So even the duller tracks, such as Concrete Walls, are always interesting to listen to. And then, of course, you get an instrumental break like the one in the middle of Concrete Walls,

Fever Ray is always an interesting listen, at worst, but in the absence of poetic lyrics, it’s really the production that brings certain tracks to life above others. So Now’s the Only Time I Know is a bit dull, but then I’m Not Done is brilliant, full of interesting percussive sounds and catchy melodies.

That’s not to say that the quieter tracks are all dull – Keep the Streets Empty for Me is a pleasant piece built around gentle guitar strumming and dirty electronics. I’m not sure the panpipes are entirely necessary, but they don’t do too much harm either.

This album closes with Coconut, a pleasant but somewhat directionless seven-minute piece, the first half of which is entirely instrumental. It’s nice, but after having heard an entire album of this already, you might be ready for something a little shorter.

So all-in-all it’s mixed feelings for Fever Ray, a decade on from its original release. When it’s good, it’s exceptional – but a lot of the time the songs themselves are nothing special, just wrapped in some brilliantly unusual production. But that should be enough to make it worth trying – in an era with plenty of dull music floating around, you seem to always be able to count on Fever Ray

If you can find it, the US version has extra tracks, a DVD, and an entire bonus live album with all the same tracks again in live versions. If not, any version will do nicely.

Rex the Dog – The Rex the Dog Show

Rex the Dog is one of those names that used to keep turning up a decade or so ago, as the remixer to whatever your latest favourite hit was. Pretty much out of nowhere, he self-released his debut (and to date, only) album The Rex the Dog Show ten years ago.

After a brief Intro track (something about dogs), we launch in with Maximize 2008, an updated version of a 2006 12″ single that Rex the Dog had released through a real record company. It’s a pulsating electro instrumental piece with an uplifting feel and a whole load of great acid noises. It’s a great way to launch the album.

Next is Gecko, featuring the triumphant return of the 1980s orchestral hit. The vocal seems pretty 1980s-inspired somehow too, and there are huge snares, but in general it still manages to sound pretty contemporary. But Bubbilicious is the track that gives us the first real taste of genius on here – the first few tracks were good, but they were clearly building up to this. It’s built, rather unpredictably, around a couple of lines of Yazoo‘s Midnight, and it does have a bit of a bootleg feel, but it also works very well.

Debut single Prototype follows, a nice, uplifting instrumental electro piece with throbbing bass and pad swells. Then Heartsong is a pleasant little instrumental interlude that carries us through to Heartbeats, actually a song by The Knife, remixed for their 2004 single release. The Knife are one of those acts that I’ve always felt I should like more than I actually do, so I’m not sure I like this mix as much as I want to either, but it’s certainly not bad.

Circulate was another 12″, released in 2007, and is an appropriate name for this rotating dance track. Sometimes I feel as though things like this might work better on the 12″ single, though – on an album, I do expect something a little less… dull?

Next are The Sounds, with Tony the Beat, which is pretty good – it’s nice to have these excursions into melodic tracks (through the remixes) between the more repetitive tracks such as I Can See You, Can You See Me? This is a good album, but there aren’t really a lot of surprises here, for the most part.

As you reach the end, though, your opinion on that may change – Itchy Scratchy is an intriguing early example of glitchy electro, and is strangely enjoyable. Then Italian Skyline, with its pained, processed pads, is an early taster for Italian Blond, which is hiding in amongst the bonus tracks. Suddenly now, towards the end, we appear to be getting all the great tracks that we should have had all the way through.

Frequency, too, previously the second single from 2004, is a great acid-infused dance piece, and so while, in spite of a great processed vocal, the closing track I Look Into Mid Air resonates less, you do leave this album feeling pretty positive on the whole. We can probably all agree that it isn’t the best album ever recorded, but for the most part, it is pretty good.

You can still find The Rex the Dog Show on release – go for the version with four bonus tracks if you find a copy.

Retro chart for stowaways – 6 June 2010

Here are the top ten albums from June 2010:

  1. Skywatchers – The Skywatchers Handbook
  2. Little Boots – Hands
  3. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
  4. Goldfrapp – Head First
  5. Massive Attack – Heligoland
  6. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
  7. I Monster – Dear John EP
  8. Tracey Thorn – Love and Its Opposite
  9. The Knife – Tomorrow, In a Year
  10. Zero 7 – Yeah Ghost

Röyksopp – The Understanding

Tradition dictates that your second album should be difficult, and often ultimately something of a disappointment too. But anybody expecting Röyksopp to follow tradition was going to be very disappointed indeed – fortunately, though, not in that way.

After a couple of years promoting 2001’s brilliant Melody AMRöyksopp had retreated back into their wood cabins in the northern wilderness of Scandinavia (I hope this is true, anyway), and spent a couple of years

The Understanding kicks off with the beautiful piano riff of Triumphant, building gradually over four minutes. If there’s a single recognisable sound or element from the first album Melody AM then I don’t know what it is. Röyksopp were back, but they were also delivering something quite new and extraordinary.

New and extraordinary are also exactly the best two adjectives to use for the second track, lead single Only This Moment. Even to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like it – it’s beautiful and euphoric, and really quite astonishing too. It’s also a great pop song. When the final verse arrives, it’s difficult not to feel the strangely evocative euphoria which this track evokes. Or maybe that’s just me.

This is a story which pervades through the whole album, and I can’t help but feel that describing every track might take a while and be rather full of hyperbole. Sombre Detune is beautiful; Follow My Ruin great too, with a smattering of eighties retro.

Which is not to say that this album doesn’t have its weaker points – 49 Percent and Circuit Breaker are both a little less stunning than their neighbours. But they’re weaker, not weak by any stretch of the imagination, and that is an important distinction. The sheer quality of this album is quite astonishing.

The middle pair are perfect examples of this – the appropriately named beautiful pop song Beautiful Day without You leads into what might be one of the best pieces of music ever recorded, What Else is There? featuring Karin Dreijer Andersson out of The Knife on vocals. Neither was unduly successful, but both were singles, and deservedly so.

The latter had a particularly creepy video too, although the visual style of the whole album was rather difficult to understand. On the sleeve, the band wear Venetian masks while they walk across a stormy beach towards an organ, and a girl floats, slightly ethereal, in the foreground. I’ll have to let you work that one out for yourself.

Meanwhile Alpha Male turns up, the delightful eight minute instrumental which carries us into the final phase of the album. It pulses and gently grows, and almost sounds as though it’s going to go on forever.

The next track is Someone Like You, another wonderful song, conceptually and lyrically very simple, but layered with the typical Röyksopp levels of musical complexity. The only thing I’d really say is that to me it always has the slight air of a closing track, rendering the two that follow a little unnecessary.

So the extremely soft Dead to the World is a surprise bonus, as is the lovely Tristesse Global, which rounds things up excellently, bringing the album pretty much back to where it started.

In many ways it’s hard to find words to do The Understanding justice, as it’s such a perfectly formed album. Just a matter of years after its predecessor, Röyksopp had taken their sound and turned it entirely on its head, and not for the last time.

Your best bet is to track down the double CD version of The Understanding, as it includes a bonus CD with five extra tracks, all of which are pretty good.

Preview – The Knife

The Knife are, without a doubt, one of the oddest acts in the world of modern electronic music. Their releases are typically hard work but rewarding, with moments of genius peppered in between less interesting material.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the video I’ve linked below comes with a wonderful slew of YouTube comments along the lines of “OMG this is sh**!!!!!!!!!!!11one,” but of course this doesn’t make it any less worth listening to. Their last album was a double CD opera based on Charles Darwin‘s Origin of the Species.

The new album Shaking the Habitual came out this week, and this track is called Full of Fire:

Forthcoming – February 2013

I know it’s only a couple of weeks since we last did this, but never mind. Here’s what we know is coming up in the near future:

4 February 2013

  • Depeche Mode – Heaven (single)
  • Eric Prydz – Every Day (single)

18 February 2013

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

25 February 2013

  • Dido – No Freedom (single)

4 March 2013

  • Dido – Girl Who Got Away

11 March 2013

  • David Bowie – Next Day
  • Electronic – Electronic (Special Edition)
  • Hurts – Exile

18 March 2013

  • Depeche Mode – Heaven (CD single)
  • Sparks – Two Hands One Mouth Live in Europe

25 March 2013

  • Edwyn Collins – Understated
  • Depeche Mode – Dream Machine

8 April 2013

  • The Knife – Sharing the Habitual
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric

Forthcoming

  • The Prodigy – How to Steal a Jet Fighter

All are albums unless stated otherwise. Correct as of post date, to the best of my knowledge – please comment below with corrections and additions. With thanks to The Quietus, Electronic Rumors, RecordStore.co.uk, and April J at Buzzjack.