Text: Arjen Bloem

Everyone has had the flu at some point in their lives. Catching sleep during such a period of nausea, headaches and the fever dreams that follow is not only unpleasant, it’s also a psychedelic intoxication. Upon awakening, most of what you have fantasised about remains in dreamland. Exactly what Fever Dreams by Conor O’Brien, mastermind behind Villagers, is about.

O’Brien seems to approach all songs as a painter. Where, with an eye for detail, thin brushstrokes are applied on canvas. The sixth studio album of the Dublin indie-folk group treats the listener to rich and refined soundscapes, such as in ‘So Simpatico’, which quickly turns into a pleasant pop song, in which the shredding sax solo keeps all the elements together, but refuses to take the upper hand. O’Brien adds: ‘The more I know, the more I care. A sentence that returns in several songs.

The song ‘The First Day’ is followed by a somewhat bombastic whole. A sparkling xylophone, complemented by horns, strings, up-tempo drums à la Surfjan Stevens and a choir that resembles a sweet version of the album ‘Turn Blue’ by The Black Keys. A similar atmosphere is created in ‘Song in Seven’, in which extra-terrestrial sounds are strongly present. Nice detail: the song was born during the festival Into the Great Wide Open in 2019 (on an Island in The Netherlands). This can be deduced from the lyrics and a statement from O’Brien, who tells in an announcement of the album that the song was born after a swim ‘on a Dutch island.’ The lyrics follow: ‘It was a very good show, but there was so much more to know. So we all went to the beach, by the warm North Sea.’ 

Title track ‘Fever Dreams’ is a pleasant jumble of all kinds of sounds, tones and voice overs; even a music box has been pulled out of the closet. It is the classic fever dream, blurring the memory. Reinforced with voices that repeat the earlier reference from ‘So Simpatico’: ‘the more I know, the more I care’. Even in Gaelic. Personal highlight is the dreamy Full Faith in Providence, in which languid piano playing becomes entwined with a euphoric escape with guest vocalist Rachael Lavelle. Also in this song, the sentence ‘the more I know, the more I care’, which has become a statement, is sung by O’Brien.

With Fever Dreams, Villagers deliver an ode to dreaming. Everything is possible and feverishly confusing; in a pleasant way. It is perhaps the most quirky record the band has made. 

Domino / V2

Photo credit: Rich Gilligan