The internet is a harsh mistress. She’s a place where nerds have an inherent upper hand over the masses, often displayed through sophomoric disses spelled with some kind of jumble of letters and numbers (someone told me once that this is called “Leet” or “L33t” or some fucking thing. I don’t care if I misnamed it here. Do you hear me, nerds? I…don’t…care.) . Of course, I myself am a nerd of at least one or two varieties, which brings me to my next point – the internet is a breeding ground for several different types of nerd, some of whom fancy themselves less nerdy than the rest. This can be particularly true of music critics and other cultural cognoscenti, who think that because they’ve never felt the awesome power of confirming a critical hit with a twenty-sided die they’re some how better than the rest of us. Well, they’re not. (And don’t knock D&D until you’ve tried it – you can be just as stuck in the basement sans girlfriend with dice and dry-erase dungeon maps as you can with Fassbinder and Duras films or My Bloody Valentine records. In fact, I don’t want to make any generalizations here but it’s a scientific fact that people who listen to My Bloody Valentine never ever get laid. Ever)
I bring this up because there is a tendency among internet nerds to get a little smug; we may, on occasion, try to make you feel stupid for not liking the things we like. And then we’ll be mad if too many people start to like the things we like. Readers of Pitchfork.com know what I’m getting at here. They seem to like a band until said band reaches a wider audience (admit it, P-forkers: you don’t like it when fratties listen to the same shit you do) at which point the collective Pitchfork nose is turned up, emitting a tiny snort of disregard for the band’s new work (am I referring to Evil Urges? Yeah, probably), and the review will accuse them of 1) trying to reach the Starbucks crowd (as if nobody at Pitchfork has ever tasted a marble mocha macchiato before) and/or 2) trafficking in “dad rock” or some other perjorative term aimed at older people, teenagers, or non-pitchforkers. Then they’ll go to someplace (say, San Diego) and dig up some cadre of unlistenable douchebags with too many pedals and a laptop (say, Wavves) who they’ll then trumpet as orgasmically awesome. It’s almost like some perverse defense mechanism where the sniveling indie kids get mad when someone else starts to dig the same stuff they do so they either denounce it entirely or snatch it back with a Golemesque, “you cannot has!” For the record, I’m not accusing Pitchfork of not really liking the things they like. I’m just saying they can be smug twats sometimes, like when Ian Cohen (perhaps their biggest perpetrator of smug douchebaggery) suggested that the reason lots of dudes took in Ida Maria’s set at Coachella was because she nearly came out of her dress at one point and sang a song called “I Like You So Much Better when You’re Naked”. For Mr. Cohen, apparently, it is impossible that the men at Coachella might genuinely have liked Ida Maria’s music (that song is ridiculously catchy); no, for Cohen, we were all their to get boners and nothing more. To sum up, as much as is possible (it’s impossible), the Internet breeds self-anointed tastemakers, anonymous name-callers, and an entire ocean of verbally retarded haters. Also porn.
Which brings me (well, not really, but what the hell? We’re almost five hundred words in here and we’ve gotta talk about Fever Ray sooner or later) to Fever Ray, the solo album from The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson. I never listened to The Knife, in part (I admit) because the critical jizz heaped upon them scared me right off of ’em. Fever Ray, Andersson’s sort of eponymous album, has, if nothing else, convinced me to give The Knife a try.
Fever Ray, if you didn’t guess it by the long preamble, got a lot of positive press (from Pitchfork and others) and, in an effort to overcome my instant skepticism of high critical praise, I decided to pick up Fever Ray and see what all the fuss was all about. And, while I don’t agree with all the kudos lavished upon this album, I can definitely see the point.
A funny thing happened to me today as I prepared to write this review. I’ve had Fever Ray for months and I’ve listened to it all the way through about five times and I was all set to sit down here and shrug my shoulders and say that Fever Ray is no big deal, no need to get excited, et cetera. So then I put the album on, as is my wont when writing about and album. “If I Had a Heart” still doesn’t impress me, but “Dry and Dusty” still does. A lot. I know I’m not going to listen to this album again after this review, but I also know that there are things that you could like about it, if you liked that sort of thing. So Fever Ray is a not-bad album that I don’t like. It may even be a good album that I don’t like. If you like Portishead, but wish they’d slow down and fuck with their voices more, Fever Ray is probably your bag.
Andersson’s voice is certainly versatile, I think. It’s often buried under all manner of digital manipulation, but it’s a lot more compelling than listening to Kanye West teabag Autotune for an hour. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of electronic music (I listen to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine with some regularity, Portishead here and there, and LCD Soundsystem a lot. This is the problem – I compare all electronic music to LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy has so thoroughly bested the competition that he is, for me, to his respective genre what Guinness is to other beers. I imbibe and enjoy other beers, but Guinness is a thing unto itself. It’s practically an event.), so maybe I just don’t get Fever Ray.
But that’s kinda bullshit, isn’t it? I mean, if you really don’t get some piece of music and you’re willing to cop to it, hey, good for you, but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon. Pitchfork used the phrase “committed listens” to suggest that Fever Ray will hit your sonic g-spot if only you want it bad enough. Well, a shit sandwich is still going to taste like shit, no matter how many times you eat it. Committing to it isn’t gonna change a damn thing. I try, and hopefully I succeed, to suggest that, when I’ve enjoyed an album after a few rotations that it’s just a personal thing. I’m not saying you should work extra hard to like an album at all. Certain people are willing to work harder to enjoy an album than others and you’re not better or worse for it. I took the time to like Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica (okay, it wasn’t that hard – that album is awesome) but I don’t expect someone else to sit through it, say, seven times and argue with themselves until they’re convinced it’s good. I’ve worked as hard as I’m gonna to like Fever Ray and I still kinda like it and kinda don’t. It’s not that I don’t understand it – it causes me no puzzlement whatsoever. It’s simply that I like some of it and don’t like some of it, probably most of it. Anytime I’m trying to write a review of an album and I’m not intersested enough to talk about the album or the artist or really anything at all, that’s a bad sign.
On balance, I sense that people who really like mirky electronic music will like Fever Ray and think I’m ludicrous for not heaping more praise upon it, but I’ll think they’re all nuts for not like Trout Mask Replica and we’ll call it day. Unless they do like Trout Mask Replica, in which case, maybe I really do have a problem committing to Fever Ray. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go renew my vows to The Hold Steady.