Original review here. Archived below.
Lord, I see a fever dream before me now
The first opportunity I had to see Everything Everything was in support of another band, a small trio with a joyous stage presence and a sound that undulated between deafening roars and twinkling intimacy.
The boys in Everything Everything marched on stage in fluorescent orange. They piqued my interest instantly, but I soon settled into my regrettable opening band mentality – a begrudging if excitable tolerance. A few songs into their set, though, these boys shattered my malaise. Complex, interlocking rhythms, grand deviations from the pop formula while still delivering pop catchiness (?!), Jonathan Higgs’s borderline surrealist lyrics delivered in a captivating falsetto.
It was art, it was math, it was politics rolled into an intelligent Mancunian bundle.
Following up 2015’s Get To Heaven, an album inspired by the rise of the crypto-fascist UKIP and ISIS, A Fever Dream emerges from the cacophony of continued political unrest in the West. On A Fever Dream, Everything Everything practically drags us into a sickly, paranoid nightmare about distrusting neighbors and small handed arrogance.
It’s a curious current to bring onto a pop-rock album, but Everything Everything are nothing if not a curious band in curious times. With so many musicians joining in what seems to be a political conversation with too many voices, Everything Everything stands out for their art and their ability to paint pictures of experiences rather than bleed feel-good clichés.
In an interview with Hotpress, Higgs himself admitted he wasn’t keen on adding to the cacophony, but it seems the band had a fever-vision and wanted to “strike while the iron is hot.”
A Fever Dream is an album of visions. Each song comes across as a vignette. By the time you’ve reached the end of the album, you’ve possessed countless narrators, each scared, insecure, hated. Higgs’s voice is the perfect vessel for these stories. Its timbre resonates with a bizarre angst even in its most peaceful moments, such as the title track where Higgs sings about hating the neighbors in an idyllic whisper.
“Night of the Long Knives,” the opening track, is an anxiety fueled trip through ravaged communities, specifically those affected by Brexit. “It’s a real big shame about your neighborhood” the band sings, but it sounds more like a contrived sigh than a real expression of sympathy for the big Oh Other.
One of the defining moments of the album happens on that opening track when Higgs asks, “Are you my enemy now?” as the band boils on a synth heavy outro.
“Run The Numbers” is an anthem from a disaffected populist, fed up with an elite telling them what’s best for them. “I don’t care about your numbers!” affirms the speaker, “‘Cos I can feel it/And I don’t care!/I’ll never care.” It’s not clear or important here what side of the political spectrum the speaker lands on – “Run The Numbers” represents a zeitgeist of just but unfocused anger.
“Big Game” lambastes Trump, and explicitly so, on everything from his “Wrinkled little boxing glove” to the “bovine balloon” of his ego; the speaker in “Can’t Do” pleads for silence, quiet, help, an end to the overwhelming state of things; “Ivory Tower,” a personal favorite, wields a raw, syncopated energy to showcase the speakers weariness with internet one-upmanship. Word of God: Higgs left Reddit because of its vitriol and its “apoplectic” neckbeards.
On A Fever Dream, Everything Everything takes the West’s zeitgeist and twists it into a wildly textured art-pop that’s as catchy as it is unnerving. One of the band’s most remarkable musical achievements is their ability to mold elements normally reserved for math-rock or strange avant-garde music into earworm pop numbers. From Michael Spearman’s intricate dual electronic-acoustic percussion that literally bridges the gap between rock and electronica, to Higgs’s capricious flitting about between falsetto and high tenor, to the razor thin current of pure anxiety that charges through every song and swells to bursting – Everything Everything threads the needle with rare clarity.
The album does lose inertia a bit as it proceeds. No doubt this was a deliberate artistic choice on the bands part, as we seem to creep deeper into a cosmopolitan depression with each song. But fans of previous albums may note that the last few songs on A Fever Dream simply fade, like the Herculean momentum at the beginning of the album was too draining.
A Fever Dream also doesn’t include much respite from the darkness, and in that darkness we lose chunks of the band’s eclectic flavor. Everything Everything has always tried to show us the cynical, but even Get To Heaven included (musically) cheerful numbers like “Spring / Summer / Winter / Dread” or compassionate songs like “No Reptiles,” as well as a broader palette of styles, instruments, and moods.
Still, A Fever Dream is a powerful, wild painting of the textures of a West in crisis – with catchy pop hooks to boot. Go get lost in it.