Villagers: Fever Dreams review – Weirding up trademark magic

Conor O’Brien’s fifth album could not be further from debut but closer to himself than ever

Fever Dreams
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Artist: Villagers
Genre: Alternative
Label: Domino

“Sometimes the most delirious states can produce the most ecstatic, euphoric and escapist dreams . . .” reads the introduction to Conor O’Brien’s fifth album, welcoming us to a new and exploratory chapter in the Dubliner’s indie sound and philosophical outlook.

Living somewhat in a fantasy land, Fever Dreams is led by emotional connection, human interaction and, through indulgent instrumental combustions, the opportunity to express yourself honestly.

The First Day is inspired by the community-centred festival Another Love Story in Co Meath’s Killyon Manor. Sparking imagery from Oscar Wilde’s children’s story The Selfish Giant, it walks us through a familiar world that becomes brighter and better when experienced alongside somebody else’s wide-eyed innocence.

“Hey, kid, now you’re part of a team in a new kind of a colourful dream and there’s a whole world in the palm of your hand,” O’Brien sing-speaks using a rickety megaphone effect before unfurling the softness of his voice into repetitive lyrics that are pregnant with wonder.

Similarly, So Simpatico allows the grips of deep devotion to take hold as strings swell in a trippy burst of pure, unashamed love. The super smooth, sax-accompanied “the more I know, the more I care” outro reappears on the end of the psychedelic title track, reimagined with multigenerational voices adding their sincerity to the sentiment.

Inspired by the works of Audre Lorde and music of Duke Ellington, in an interview with the Irish Examiner O’Brien revealed that he’s reading “only books which were written before the internet existed right now, because I think there’s a difference in the way they use language”, which explains the friction in Circles in the Firing Line.

What is dressed up as an escape from fiery online culture, this shape-shifting, 6½-minute jazz-rock excursion could be interpreted as a refusal to partake at all: “It’s more than a state of mind. It’s like a wave, a stubborn take on the truth.”

Though Fever Dreams is outwardly not a lockdown album, the final day of recording was the first day of lockdown in 2020, granting O’Brien months of isolation to tinker around with arrangements and push them to previously unknown boundaries.

Full Faith in Providence features the exceptionally talented Rachael Lavelle. It generously gives room to both musicians to display their eccentricities and vulnerabilities. A gentle and agnostic duet, it’s a match made in Heaven.

Using interview soundbites, brass breakdowns and electronic odysseys to elongate and connect songs, Fever Dreams could not sound further from O’Brien’s 2010 debut. But by weirding up his trademark magic, he somehow sounds closer to himself than ever.