Album: Villagers – Fever Dreams review

by Philip Moss

Fever Dreams sees Dublin’s answer to Brian Wilson balancing big choruses against a haze of weirdness on his most ambitious, radio friendly collection yet 

For some, winning awards such an Ivor Novello can prove to be a noose around a songwriter’s neck. But Dublin’s Conor O’Brien has no such issues. Since his 2016 win for Darling Arithmetic, he has carried on doing what he does best: writing beautiful melodies accompanied by heartfelt words.

And for much of Fever Dreams, the philosophy remains the same. However, there is a little bit of a twist here. Lead singles, The First Day and So Simpatico – both of which made 6 Music’s A playlist – are as immediate as the poppiest song in his back catalogue, The Trick of the Light, but they feature as extended versions, and both are somehow even better for it. None of the rich ear worm loveliness of the radio edits is lost, but they are melded with a smattering of Sparklehorse or Grandaddy-alike weirdness – the former bringing the curtain up on the record with an out of tune strangeness that completely juxtaposes the big melodies that follow, but – in just one song – capturing the album’s title perfectly through its dark, sweet quality.

Inspiration for Fever Dreams was said, in part, to have come from night swimming, and it shows on the weightlessness of the title track. Somewhat akin to Eels’ Daisies of the Galaxy, it’s a six minute experimental suite, and O’Brien’s counter vocal lines sway gently in and out of focus, as panoramic synths, a tape machine that sounds like it is eating itself, and drums that push against his playful strokes. Before Deep In My Heart concludes the LP with its most heartfelt, straightforward, but no less special cut – leaving a gentle reminder that despite what’s come before it, the Dubliner’s use of studio trickery on the collection is in no way because of a reliance.

Five albums into a career that has already seen him lauded for his special songwriting, Fever Dreams strikes the perfect balance – and Conor O’Brien has made the most interesting record of his career.

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