When Villagers recorded their previous LP The Art of Pretending to Swim, frontman Conor O’Brien reflected on his addiction to constantly checking his mobile phone, extortionate rising house prices and being influenced by Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century mathematician and early computer programmer who Conor discovered by reading a graphic novel.
This time around, O’Brien had an urge to write something as generous to the listener as it was to myself. The result is an LP of songs with the strange, melted shapes and the magical ambivalence of dreams.
Album opener “Something Bigger”, whilst just 47 seconds long, features a soundscape of a child’s music box singing is both mysterious and dreamlike as well as a non-threatening invitation to go on a journey which leads into “The First Day”. Burt Bacharach arrangements of piano, horns and trumpets from the outset provide a positive and uplifting cacophony as Conor sings, “And you feel a force ten coming on strong and a strong sense that it can’t go wrong”. Amidst the pop, the sound is a quirky eeriness alongside a soothingly harmonious yet understated choir.
The Bacharach arrangements continue on the acoustic guitar-led “Song in Seven”. The beautiful use of the xylophone reinforces a sense of dreamlike mystery calling for discovery. The lyrics including “it as a very good show but there was so much more to know” reinforce this thirst for knowledge and the need to go on quests for revelations.
The sophistication and eloquence with growing saxophone presence amidst subtle EDM sounds are found on seven-minute “So Simpatico”. The themes of piano, horns and trumpets continue. Its mastery is its abstractness by opening with the child music box sounds, which give way to strings and flutes. As well as continuing the theme of dreams, positivity is reinforced with the following lyrics: “And little did I know you were here all the time in the garden you’d lie in the depths of my mind. The more I know, the more I care”. “Momentarily” continues this theme and musical arrangements whilst using piano loops and static, synthetic drum beats. There is also a sense of perspective when Conor sings, “it’s the little things that devour us”.
The penultimate song shares the title of this LP, Fever Dreams, which follows on from “Full Faith in Providence” after the opening echoing distorted piano with flute ends peacefully as if one has been put into a pleasant sleep after a period of positive, thought-provoking reflection just like the man on the LP’s album cover who floats face down on a float in a private swimming pool as a giant sleeping bear watches him. Playout track “Deep in my Heart” shares similarities where Conor also takes on the role of a crooner with Nat King Cole piano style arrangements.
While Fever Dreams’ strength lies in its ability to stay true to a reoccurring theme by being mysterious and as clear as a bell, “Circles in the Firing Line” is the standout golden nugget. This multi-faceted song not only embraces the piano, horns and trumpets; it also provides gorgeous baritone funk guitar and punk guitar, which also sees Conor sing “They’re fucking up my favourite dream…” with punk attitude just before this six and a half minute song concludes by gradually fading out.
Written over the course of two years and mixed by David Wrench (Frank Ocean, The xx, FKA Twigs), Villagers has created a quirky non-pop and non-mainstream dreamlike soundscape that can be instantly appreciated in the same way Bacharach and easy listening songs are. This is the genius of Fever Dreams.
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