Radical Romantics – Fever Ray (CD Review)

Radical Romantics

Fever Ray



It has been nearly six years since Plunge, Karin Dreijer’s last album under the moniker Fever Ray. Equally well known for their band The Knife, on which they collaborate with their brother Olof Dreijer, Karin has made distinctive electronic music for over twenty years. Their latest, Radical Romantics, is a welcome return. In gestation since 2019, it is some of the finest work released by the Fever Ray project.


Another welcome return is one of collaboration. Olof helped to produce some of the recording and co-wrote four of the songs, the first collaboration between the siblings in eight years. Other co-producers and performers include Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails), experimental artist and producer Vessel, Portuguese DJ and producer Nídia, Johannes Berglund, Peder Mannerfelt, and Pär Grindvik’s technicolor dance project Aasthma. Long-time collaborator, Martin Falck, joined Dreijer in creating an impressive visual corollary to the recording. Indeed, Radical Romantics is a project in which videos and artwork are a strong component, not the promotional devices that they so often are for other releases. 


The first four songs are a set written by Karin and Olof. “What They Call Us” started life some time ago as material for two unrealized movie soundtracks. Thrumming live drums alongside drum machine, an insistent synth riff, and electronic interjections demonstrate the number of iterations of the genesis of “What They Call Us.” However, this working approach is not uncommon on Radical Romantics. The end result, like much of the rest of the album, is music chock full of multifaceted layers, as well as far flung allusions in its lyrics. Another tune the siblings co-wrote, being supported by a video, is “Kandy.” It has an irrepressible “Whoo” vocal ostinato, an alto register lead vocal, and squirms with synth melodies. Tabla on “Shiver” and hand claps and a bass drum on “New Utensils” provide fulsome grooves. Both also feature modular synths that create a swarm of glissandos. Karin’s vocals encompass a variety of colors and superlative control. Gone is the stridency that typified some of their work in the Knife, replaced with a supple upper range and honeyed lower register. When they want to, as on “Even it Out,’ a steely edge appears.


The hit single, thus far, is “Carbon Dioxide,” on which Vessel helps to craft a club track with a soaring vocal by Karin and strings by Sakhi Singh and Seb Gainsborough. “Carbon Dioxide” includes an unusual tune, the Baby Elephant melody. Like many of Radical Romantic’s songs, the backstory recalls a diverse selection of inspirations and influences. Fever Ray has said they wanted the music to,  “Have the feeling of when you first fall in love …to be nice, happy, full of everything, extra everything. The Baby Elephant melody is the happiest melody of all time. The track contains wording from 1 Corinthians 13:1 because those words made a great impact when hearing them in Kieślowski’s Blue film. And a line from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, Gift from the Sea.” 


Another standout is “Even it Out,” on which Karin collaborates with Nine Inch Nails. Reverberant vocals create a texture over which a second line, a rousing chant, is placed. NiN supply a terse electric guitar, bending notes, and an alt-rock drum pattern. The song imagines settling scores with your child’s bully, a feeling many parents have likely had (hopefully, as here, it remains a fantasy). Reznor and Ross also assist on “North,” which Karin describes as “stillness after collapse.” As its title suggests, there is a chilly atmosphere, with whispered vocals, a syncopated rhythmic loop, and an architecture of overlaid synths. Mining their father’s record collection, Karin got to know Bob Marley’s music. On “Looking for a Ghost,” a line from Marley’s “Satisfy My Soul” appears alongside an unlikely compatriot – a Porno for Pyros snippet – as well as words by the eminent Swedish author Barbo Lindgren.


“Tapping Fingers” is a sad song, one that Karin suggests is the saddest song they have written, about trying to communicate with your partner, listening for a morse code message in their tapping fingers, repeated over and over again as they fall asleep. Vocals in octaves, a descending chord progression with fat bass underneath, and regular synth punctuations adorn the song. The final track is seven minutes long, but makes much with a small amount of material. “Bottom of the Ocean” consists of Karin performing repeating vowels that echo with long repeated bass tones underneath. It is a suitable denouement to cool down from an album of imaginative instrumentation and excellent songwriting. Recommended. 


  • Christian Carey

New single from Dragonchild

Today, dragonchild released “Above All,” a single from his forthcoming debut self-titled album, out April 21st, 2023 on FPE Records.

dragonchild is new project by Debo Band’s DA Mekonnen. Mekonnen’s background is fascinating. He is a composer, saxophonist, and ethnomusicologist who is applying the study of eighties Ethiopian cassette culture to create the music on the LP. His lithe saxophone solos celebrate this tradition of disseminating music, reviving its musical grammar and spirit. Recommended.

Kirk Knuffke Trio (CD Review)

Kirk Knuffke Trio

Gravity Without Airs

Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Matthew Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass

Tao Forms

Cornetist Kirk Knuffke plays his instrument with equal versatility to the more common trumpet, presenting a wide range of compass, dynamics, and articulations that leave his work continually fascinating. On Gravity Without Airs, a title taken from Marcus Aurelius, he joins with pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio. Many of the compositions on the recording are by Knuffke. The other pieces are spontaneous improvisations. There is a permeability between composed and improvised selections. Knuffke brought the music to the recording date without sharing it with his collaborators first. Reading from the stand provided inspiration for the subsequent free play, making Gravity Without Airs of a piece. 

The title track is an odyssey that reveals the simpatico nature of the trio. Knuffke unthreads long phrases of melody. Partway through, this is replaced by shorter motives that Shipp responds to in counterpoint. Soon things get fiery and move uptempo, with Bisio pressing forward with a walking line. Shipp supplies cascading descending chord progressions to counterbalance Knuffke’s flights aloft. A syncopated repeated chord provides a little bit of space before the descending progression is resumed, this time with Knuffke following Shipp’s suit and changing the direction of his own lines downward. Ostinatos from Bisio and Shipp provide accompaniment to altissimo playing from Knuffke, closing out the piece far away from its beginning. 

Another piece on which they stretch out is “Birds of Passage.” It has a dramatic opening, with Bisio playing glissandos, Shipp dissonant chords that at times near clusters, and Knuffke wailing in his upper register. His facility with sixteenth notes is impressive and his soloing moves in different tempo relationships to Bisio and Shipp. All of a sudden, the storm subsides to a single repeated note from Shipp, who shortly begins to create a slow, single line solo over spacious voicings. Knuffke rejoins, channeling the early jazz tradition of the cornet with flourishes that eventually move back into greater angularity. Shipp continues to develop repeated note ideas while Bisio explores smaller ranges of sliding tones. The trio moves downward, Bisio inhabiting the bass’s low register, Shipp creating whorls of harmony, and Knuffke eventually responding with a mysterious, lyrical solo. The piece ends with an enigmatic twist.

“Sun is Always Shining” takes the trio into more hard bop terrain. Knuffke plays keening lines over fifths and octaves repeated by Bisio and fluid countermelodies; tangy harmonies, and oscillations in the bass register are contributed by Shipp. “Another River” moves the trio away from bop to free playing with incisive attacks and angular overblowing from Knuffke eliciting adventurous playing from his colleagues. The group excels at intensity, but their ballads are sumptuous too. The slow sustain of “Paint Pale Silver” provides a miniature utterance akin to the Wandelweiser group. 

Knuffke, Shipp, and Bisio know each others’ playing well, and it shows on Gravity Without Airs. That said, they demonstrate that they still share musical terrain to explore. Recommended.

-Christian Carey

Punch Brothers and Watchhouse – “Mystery of Love” (Sufjan Stevens Cover) – Video

Last week, Punch Brothers and Watchhouse joined together onstage, playing a cover of the Sufjan Stevens song “Mystery of Love.” Bandleader Chris Thile announced that the two bands, joined by Sarah Jarosz, would be doing an acoustic tour. The shows begin on July 27th; more information here.

Adams Boxed Set Listening Party

John Adams

Collected Works Boxed Set




What a seventy-fifth birthday present. Today, Nonesuch releases John Adams Collected Works, a 40-CD compendium of his recordings for the label and a few from other imprints. 


The curation of the set has thoughtful touches. It begins with Harmonielehre, the 1985 recording by Edo de Waart that began Adams’s association with Nonesuch and ends with a live recording of the same work by the Berlin Philharmonic, which released its own Adams boxed set a few years back (well worth seeking out). There are extensive liner notes, with essays by Timo Andres, Nico Muhly, Jake Wilder-Smith, Julia Bullock, and Robert Hurwitz. 


Adams continues his creativity apace. Accordingly, space has been left in the box for future recordings.


From 12:00 PM to 12 AM (EDT), listen to excerpts from the boxed set here

The Soft Hills “Tea Time” (Video)

The Soft Hills (singer/songwriter Garett Hobba) will release the album Viva Chi Vede via Black Spring Records on July 22nd. “Tea Time” is the first single off of the album, with a charming, traveling circus inspired video that pairs nicely with the psych-pop vibe of the single.

Garett Hobba

Jah Wobble Records Ukrainian Anthem (Benefit)

Renowned bassist Jan Wobble (PIL) has joined with Ukrainian musicians to create a dub remix of the Ukrainian National Anthem. All proceeds will benefit Ukrainian Refugees. Please donate if you can.

<a href=”https://jahwobbletheukrainians.bandcamp.com/track/ukrainian-national-anthem-in-dub”>Ukrainian National Anthem In Dub by Jah Wobble &amp; The Ukrainians (featuring Jon Klein)</a>

Ukraine’s glory has not perished, nor her freedom gone
Our strong people, once again, fate will smile upon
All our enemies will soon disappear like dew in the sun
Then, once more will we be free, in the land we call our own
Body and soul we will lay down for our freedom
And the world will know that we are people of the Kozak nation

Produced by Jah Wobble and Jon Klein
Mixed and arranged by Jon Klein
Jah Wobble – bass
Jon Klein – guitar, keys and programming
‘The Legendary’ Len Liggins – lead vocal, backing vocal, violin
Peter Solowka – acoustic guitar, backing vocal
Paul Weatherhead – backing vocal, mandolin
Stephen ‘Mr Steff’ Tymruk – accordion
Jah Wobble cover photo by Paul Cliff
Video by Jon Klein and Rebecca Walkley; editing by Jon Klein