New Music 07/2018 – Fever Ray, Courtney Barnett

Second solo albums by two of my favourites, which mostly avoid the dreaded second album curse.

Fever Ray – Plunge

Karin Dreijer’s first solo album under the moniker Fever Ray was one of those rare albums that had me going oh my god holy shit I must run out and get it right now after listening to a couple of songs on YouTube. That was back in 2009 and I had assumed that it was simply a wonderful one-off, so imagine my surprise when I learned that Fever Ray was back with more spooky electronic weirdness.

I’d say this new album has more in common with her work as half of The Knife duo; whereas the first album relied on moody atmospheric soundscapes and ghostly pitch-shifted vocals, this one has more dancey beats, while Dreijer’s love-it-or-hate-it voice doesn’t hide behind the distortion and is pushed high in the mix. She also gets a lot more political and, well, horny, sometimes within the space of the same song, such as the pulsating centrepiece This Country (Free abortions/And clean water… This house makes it hard to f***/This country makes it hard to f***). While it didn’t hit me with the same revelatory force as Fever Ray’s debut, it’s still a great album and a nice consolation after the last The Knife record, which I found to be almost wilfully unenjoyable.

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

A moodier, more introverted album, Barnett’s follow-up to her excellent debut has me conflicted just a tad. My favourite things about the first album were Barnett’s witty wordplay, storytelling and rambling observational lyrics with a distinctive Melbourne flavour. Tell Me How You Really Feel sees her largely abandon all of this in favour of a more inward-looking approach, dealing with failing relationships and striving for optimism among the tumultuous feelings of self-doubt and hopelessness. To her credit, her less-showy lyrics are still vastly superior to your average confessional singer-songwriter, and perhaps after the success of the first album she felt the danger of falling into self-parody. She also still has a gift for a modest but effective guitar hook.

On the album’s most barbed song,¬†Nameless, Faceless, Barnett goes outside her head to snap at the internet trolls who make life miserable for everyone else (He said “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup/And spit out better words than you”/But you didn’t). The same song cites a famous Margaret Atwood quote and sounds downright eerie in the light of the recent rape and murder of a young woman in Melbourne’s Princes Park:

I wanna walk through the park in the dark
Men are scared that women will laugh at them
I wanna walk through the park in the dark
Women are scared that men will kill them
I hold my keys
Between my fingers

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