Carry On Dreijer Andersson…
Iain Mew: One of the more straightforward songs on the album, which obviously isn’t saying much. Karin wraps her elastic vocals round an engaging series of nature related fragments and thoughts above whoosh and swirl and crackle; it’s beautiful, and makes you feel like, if you listen hard and long enough, some greater meaning might just emerge shining from its compact grip. Difficult to rate on its own when the cumulative buildup of atmosphere is so crucial to the album, but how could I say anything against a song whose first wish is to be a Forrester?
Joseph McCombs: I’m really baffled by this stream of barely consciousness. It’s easily the most tedious record of 2009, a fragile farce absent of atmosphere. What the hell was the aim here?
Jordan Sargent: Love or hate The Knife (I fall somewhere in between), it’s undeniable that they’re experts at conjuring atmosphere, usually always spooky, haunting, dark and desolate. “When I Grow Up”, a song about being seeking comfort in nature, doesn’t stray far from those moods — the percussion sounds like drizzling rain, and Karin like a howling, lonely wolf. The beat’s spareness amplifies her loneliness, and as the song floats away as she wails about embrace, it’s hard not to picture her alone in a clearing in a forest.
Tom Ewing: I do wish Karin DA wouldn’t sing everything as if she’s pushing her voice through a tea-strainer. It reminds me of — obscuro reference alert! — Mimi Goese of Hugo Largo, who similarly used to sing all her stuff with invisible jazz hands. She wrote crap lyrics about turtles though, whereas Fever Ray write about the evil dream archetypes that haunt the European mind. Spooky! The music on this is an audacious rip-off of dodgy new age ethno-tronica, which makes the whole package a bewitching balance of actually quite terrible components.
Alex Macpherson: As throughout the whole Fever Ray album, what lies at the heart of ‘When I Grow Up’ is the tension between what Karin Dreijer Andersson reveals and what she hides. A performance of startling, bare intimacy draws you in; but her absolute, and admirable, refusal to compromise is implacable. Pained but stately, she sings of crab claws, rum and cucumbers with an ascetic intensity, in a tempo as relentless as a foot grinding dust into the floor.
Keane Tzong: Karin Dreijer-Andersson’s voice is a thing of wonder. Here, stripped of almost all of its usual trickery and pitch-shifting, and accompanied by tropical rhythms and arctic howls (yes, both at the same time, in the same song), it’s both stronger and more obtuse than ever, its meaning practically indecipherable. “When I Grow Up” offers few clues to its intent with its lyrics, too; childish wonderment and mundanity take a sharp left turn into stories about funny men with hanging tongues. The overall effect is like being transported directly into Karin’s experience of some kind of slow and creeping mood. But whether that mood is terror, or bliss, is up to you.
Ian Mathers: Given that this is a single from an album so widely reported to be bleak and gloomy (and also awesome, all of which Fever Ray is), “When I Grow Up” is awfully sinuous, and even a little playful (the brief sonic evocation of a boomerang is a neat trick). Like most of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s work it also manages to be both innocent and creepy, while adding a new wrinkle to her work by relying on a cleanly echoing guitar line winding among the syncopated beats and fake-steel drum synthesizers. Sublime.
Hillary Brown: Oh, whatever. This is so Tangerine Dream. I know, I know. It’s probably more like the boring bits of Kate Bush. But it has a whistly blurriness that is just annoying enough to take away from anything interesting that it does.
Andrew Brennan: I really really want to like this — I adore Dreijer Andersson’s voice — but it just doesn’t go anywhere. I kept waiting for the song to swell into something bombastic, but it never does — the solo it segues into at 2:58 isn’t enough.
Rodney J. Greene: This never feels like it might achieve lift-off until the coda when Karin shuts up and allows a typically Arctic synth to do all the talking. It has all of the Knife’s oddities, but none of their hooks.
Alex Wisgard: Fever Ray has been praised by all corners, but Karin Dreijer Andersson’s solo project – and The Knife in general – never quite clicked with me. It’s cold and difficult to love – all austere synthscapes and static beats – with the occasional moment of humanity. Fortunately, this single is one of those moments; all vocal effects are turned off, and the atmopsherics are offset by a gloriously daffy lyric (“I’m very good with plants – when my friends are away, they let me keep the soil moist”) and some neat production tricks. It’s a quirky, well-crafted pop song that might just convince a few more people – myself included – that all the hype is justified after all.
Martin Skidmore: This strange, quirky female sound we get a lot of now mostly doesn’t appeal to me at all, but this is impressive, achieving a lot of the cold electronic strangeness that Bjork successfully used, which of course is a good match for her swooping tones, though I don’t think she is that terrific a singer. The lyrics are oddly disjointed, but there are some excellent lines that really grab you. Compelling, but I’m not sure if I’ll love it or hate it a few months from now.
David Raposa: This track’s bubbling drum blips & wispy synths wouldn’t be out of place on your run-of-the-mill 80s AC-powered ballad (insert your least favorite one here), but thankfully Karin Dreijer Andersson, as she herself says in the song, puts her soul in what she does. It’s not just the ease with which she turns the quotidian into something strange and unsettling (“I?m very good with plants / When my friends are away / they let me keep the soil moist”), but her queasy keening voice. Part funereal wail, part spiritual benediction, Andersson’s singing unites the music’s superficial gloom and the lyric’s old-soul naivete to create something much more sensual and atavistic than its parts. And all while maintaining the song’s off-kilter catchiness. Which is just a purple-prose way to say that I think this track is beyond awesome.
John M. Cunningham: There’s no chorus, the repetitious vocal line sort of just treads water, and yet this is currently my most-played track of 2009, for a couple of reasons. One: Karin Dreijer Andersson borrows a trick from her band the Knife and uses exotic pentatonic melodies and wide-open harmonies to create an enthralling mood that’s not just spooky but downright primordial. Two: the electronic production is pristine. The arctic starkness of the first minute, for instance, makes that little looping balearic guitar figure feel momentous when it enters. The fact that Andersson’s vocals are barely memorable also, in a way, works to the song’s advantage: whenever the song comes to an end, I’m never too sick of it to play it again.