Villagers – ‘Fever Dreams’ album review

Conor O’Brien’s Villagers return with sixth album ‘Fever Dreams’. Written over the past couple of years and recorded during those longer lockdown days at the start of the pandemic, the record has a central theme of escapism and finds Conor ruminating on events ranging from night swimming on a Dutch island to the inescapable power of romance and love.

The album inevitably begins with the distorted and dreamy 48 seconds of ‘Something Bigger’ before moving onto the (eventual) chamber pop sound of lead single ‘The First Day’, a track that finds Conor reminiscing about how ‘it feels like falling in love on the first day of the rest of your life’ and ‘floating on the essence of a dream’. ‘Song in Seven’ follows with a blast of studio chat before the storytelling takes over: ‘It was a very good show and we all went to the beach’. Conor highlights the beauty of nature – ‘there was a pattern in the sky and it took me so high and the waves at my feet’ – before the sound moves from melancholic with a touch of understated brass to something more akin to a Bond soundtrack. Recent single ‘So Simpatico’ is extended to seven minutes on the album and its gorgeous strings lend a grandiose feeling that captures the heartfelt nature of the lyrics: ‘You are the one for me’. On the album edition, there’s also a dip into Duke Ellington-style jazz towards the end.

‘Momentarily’ opens with some introspective piano and observations on how big an effect the little things can have on your state of mind – but also how this can be cancelled out: ‘When I think of you, it all goes away momentarily’. Album centrepiece ‘Circles in the Firing Line’ follows and while the start of this song harks back to the folk-rock feel of Conor’s 2010 debut ‘Becoming a Jackal’, it soon evolves into something quite different. There’s an anger in the delivery of ‘They’re fucking up my favourite dream, it’s enough to make me want to scream’ and this soon finds the whole song morphing into something fuller with art rock guitar hooks and plenty of distortion. As this frustration continues to evolve, the final 30 seconds finds Conor screaming ‘THEY’RE FUCKING UP MY FAVOURITE DREAM’ over garage rock stylings – it’s the loudest Villagers has ever been and it’s a delight.

‘Restless Endeavour’ is back to kaleidoscopic piano and drums, while ‘Full Faith in Providence’ falls somewhere between Loney Dear and James Blake with its talk of planning a journey: ‘The more I know, the more I care, the more I dare to tempt fate’. The penultimate title track has an unsettling Lynchian vibe running through – especially when the breakdown incorporates spoken-word clips discussing angels, prayers and meditation – and again finds Conor repeating the words ‘The more I know, the more I care’. The album wraps up with ‘Deep in My Heart’, an ode to moonshine and a gold mine of memories: ‘It’s a free ride taking us back to the start’.

Both beautiful and dark – much like its title – ‘Fever Dreams’ is the kind of record you’ll want to wrap yourself up in – there’s so much to explore and discover.

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