Ray of darkness

Fever Ray gives birth to icy electro ideas. Plus: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass explodes with green sounds
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Andersson: cold chills

By Kimberly Chunarts@sfbg.comSONIC REDUCER We've got a fever for the flavor of sleep deprivation: everywhere I look, our proud ladies of the recession are pushing prams filled with spawn, swinging Baby Bjorns crammed with newborns. It's baby time — the ideal way to fill the hours emptied by layoffs, buyouts, forced shut-downs, mandatory vaca. Severance packages ought to come with a bonus pack of Pampers, 'cause you can't sever that 18-year-plus invisible umbilical cord to the most personal of side projects.

Karin Dreijer Andersson of electropop sensations the Knife and now Fever Ray knows of what I speak: she gestated this year's Fever Ray (Mute) over eight months shortly after she had her second child. "I guess it's a lot about being in the house, and the new ideas you get when you become a parent," Andersson, 34, explains by phone from her digs in Stockholm.

"When you give birth to something you also start to understand what life is — and you also start to understand the opposite, what death is about," she muses, carefully parsing out each word. "So for me, it was a very frightening time as well because it's the first time you see the very thin line in-between. It's a huge awakening in a way.

All of which explains the corpse paint Andersson sports in Fever Ray's promo shots — and the folkish costumes designed by Andreas Nilsson for the tour. Together, Nilsson and Andersson hoped to evoke "the very primitive and primal elements in the music," while acknowledging Fever Ray's digital and high-tech qualities — fashioning a kind of "laser-folk" look, if you will.

Fever Ray itself marked a major switch for Andersson: a return to making music on her own, something she did long before she started collaborating in 1999 with her brother Olof Dreijer. After gathering acclaim and awards for the Knife's Silent Shout (Rabid, 2006), they decided to take a break, though they also recently collaborated on Tomorrow in a Year, an opera about Charles Darwin, which debuted this summer in Copenhagen. "It's very fun to use pitch-shifting on a classically trained mezzo-soprano," Andersson says happily.

For Fever Ray, Andersson stirred together digital sonics, synths, and software with analog drums, guitar, handclaps, and piano, as well as her beloved pitch-shifter for vocals: it seemed apropos for beauteous, dark, and downtempo ruminations like "Concrete Waltz" and "Keep the Streets Empty for Me." "That mix between very digital instruments and the analog sound — I think it's very important to get a good dynamic," Andersson notes. "It becomes very ... flat if you just use digital. And I think the same when you just play with just analog — for me it sounds a bit boring."

FEVER RAY With VukMon/5, 8 p.m., $28–$30Regency Ballroom1290 Sutter, SF. www.goldenvoice.com

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GRAZING IN THE 'GRASS

Cutbacks abound, but don't expect many amid the free golden fields of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. This year brings unexpected couplings like comedian Steve Martin brandishing his banjo with the Steep Canyon Rangers; Booker T ganging up with the Drive-By Truckers; and Rage Against the Machine/Street Sweeper Social Club's Tom Morello in the songwriter circle with Dar Williams and marrieds Steve Earle and Allison Moorer. I'm looking forward to relatively HSB newbs like Allen Toussaint, Marianne Faithfull, Mavis Staples, Okkervil River, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, and Amadou and Mariam, and I'm hoping to hop on the way-way-back machine for Little Feat and Malo (Carlos Santana broheim Jorge's band, of "Suavacito" fame). For a primo education in the real dealie, install yourself at the Sunday's Banjo Stage for Hazel Dickens, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Ralph Stanley. *Fri/2-Sun/4, check site for times, free.

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