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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