Escapist pop that could rank as their most endearing album yet...

Last year’s tenth anniversary vinyl release of Villagers’ debut, ‘Becoming A Jackal’, made all the more stark the evolution of Conor O’Brien’s songwriting. Its indie-folk charms remain bewitching, but the inventive, hook-laden and soulful incarnation that took shape with 2018’s ‘The Art Of Pretending To Swim’ is fully realised on ‘Fever Dreams’. Having pushed in a more electronic direction with that previous record, using samples and programmed beats, this set of songs found their groove at the hands of his band. Recorded in the year preceding the original lockdown and then manipulated in those strange months that followed, this is an album of release which attempts to turn away from relentless, oppressive digital connectivity.

Early single ‘The First Day’ builds and builds, serving as a hymn to opportunity and a confident statement of intent. ‘Full Faith In Providence’ offers a fragile contrast, guest vocalist Rachael Lavelle gradually weaving around O’Brien and a vintage piano. ‘So Simpatico’ is a quite magnificent example of escapist pop, unleashing a euphoric sax break but never at risk of being saccharine, while the guitar parts on ‘Circles In The Firing Line’ land somewhere between Pavement and Graham Coxon at his most frenetic.

‘Fever Dreams’ is very possibly Villagers’ most ambitious and endearing record to date.

9/10

Words: Gareth James 

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