If Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was set to music, the score might sound something like Fever Ray, the solo project of Karin Dreijer Andersson (one half of the sibling duo, the Knife). Picking up where the menacing beats she produced with her brother left off, Fever Ray wades into deeper and darker waters with an electronic sound that's equally demonic and gothic. But, like what Shelley does with doctor Frankenstein's monster, Fever Ray injects an ample dose of humanity into a monster's disfigured body. Benevolence and affection peek through the spooky synths and distorted, growling voices on "Dry and Dusty:" "Never leave me/ Walk close behind me/ Your hand, my hand fits so easy." And again on "If I Had a Heart:" "If I had a heart I could love you/ If I had a voice I would sing."
As a whole, the self-titled album released earlier this year, captures the moment when a dream careens into a nightmare, a wounded rapture or blackened fantasy. Not exactly the record you would expect from a mother of two, but that's what is so enticing and refreshing about Andersson. As an artist, she makes a living out of subverting expectations and digging tunnels under the boundaries of popular music.
What's often expected of musicians coming out of Sweden is a bubbly and sweet product (think Abba and the Cardigans), but Andersson proves that Swedes can do more than one thing well. And, unlike her compatriots, she makes a point of removing the focus from the individual and placing it squarely on the art. Andersson explains her reasoning: "We think it's important to let the music stand for itself more than focusing on the artist or the person who is behind it. Music has the potential and the capability to create something much bigger...it has the capability to be completely free, to do anything. And I think you limit that idea when you put yourself in front of it, in a way."
Andersson is so set on being nothing more than a portal for her artistic expression that, when the Knife won a bunch of Grammis (the Swedish version of The Grammys), she sent friends in gorilla costumes to accept the awards on her behalf. Moreover, the Knife didn't tour for five or six years after their debut triple-platinum album. And, as Fever Ray, Andersson protects what's left of her anonymity by wearing masks, hoods with shrunken heads on them, and skeletal face paint, channeling the music in order to become different characters beyond herself.
Despite this reluctance to the spotlight, she has decided to lower her mask a bit when she performs on her latest US tour. Fever Ray has a history of being visually conceptual, from the cover art of the album and its singles to the immaculately shot music videos. And with Andreas Nilsson (the man behind the "If I Had a Heart" video) directing the tour, it's bound to be quite the extraordinary spectacle. Early reports speak of mist, lamps, laser beams, elaborate costumes, and even more face paint. And Pitchfork describes the last time Andersson toured with the Knife as "a unique amalgamation of performance art, rave, and horror movie." It's enough to make your mouth water.
Fever Ray plays The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on October 5, 2009. For tickets and information, visit ticketmaster.com or feverray.com. Check back after the concert for dazzling pictures of my journey through the underworld. Here's a teaser video of the tour and some other treats to tide you over: