In 2004, New York City-based quintet The Fever released their debut album via new(ish) NYC indie, Kemado Records. Called Red Bedroom, the album was a twelve-song, garage/punk/dance offering that (accurately) drew comparisons to fellow NYC cool kids The Rapture and The Walkmen. Up-tempo, jerky rock numbers abounded on the album, including "Gray Ghost" and "Ladyfingers," the latter of which was first introduced to the record buying public on the Pink On Pink EP (also via Kemado) a year earlier. They received decent support from college radio and a few alternative stations even played the record more than once a week, but for the most part, the band was tossed into the ever-growing stable of NYC garage-inspired "dance/punk" bands, alongside an incalculable number of other one-trick rock & roll ponies like (insert 547 band names here). And just to be clear... they sorta deserved it. Red Bedroom was good, some might argue "special" or "significant," but I wouldn't. The best thing that record did was give the band a reason to mount a national tour (or three), which earned them a deserving reputation as an engaging live act with the raw energy and unbridled passion that the "punk" in their "punk/funk" micro-genre might suggest. That was The Fever then.
The Fever of right now is a vastly different beast entirely. Today, they are rock & roll geniuses who defy categorization. Today, they are the band that will release the first great American album of 2006. Today, The Fever will blow your fucking brains out (figuratively, of course) and all you'll be able to do is say "thank you."
In The City Of Sleep, The Fever's sophomore album, has given birth to an entirely new band. Now a quartet (their original guitarist left the band), The Fever teamed up with mad genius producer/engineer Steve Rivette, who helped to shape a dynamic and imaginative (dare I say it) masterpiece. Beginning with a 57-second, guitar-heavy instrumental that sounds like an out-take from the posthumous Jim Morrison poetry album An American Prayer, the album lurches forward into "Redhead." The song explodes with a spastic intensity that is only magnified by the helicopter-like, ,Pulp Fiction-esque guitar of Keith Stapelton. Frontman Geremy Jasper speaks the verses with a dark ferocity that borderlines on madness, pulling it all together for an eruption of a chorus that begins with "I asked my baby for a glass of water / she gave me gasoline," and ends with, "Baby... I'm your man." So far, while better than anything the band has previously recorded, the album doesn't sound too far removed from what one would expect from The Fever's second record. That's a sentiment that lasts exactly four minutes and 36 seconds - the exact amount of time allotted before the opening notes of "Waiting For The Centipede," which sounds like the musical equivalent of screwing a one-legged, bearded circus freak to Sgt. Peppers' "For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" while staring at a life-sized photo of The Doors' Strange Days album cover (on weed). It's a little be scary, a lot interesting and 100% unforgettable.
The album continues on like this for (count them) SIXTEEN total tracks, bringing the listener to crazy places and inducing a dreamlike coma of rock & roll elation. Incorporating all sorts of crazy instruments (pump organ, xylophone, marimba, brake drum, etc.), the record explores new an undiscovered territory for contemporary popular music. Songs like "Crying Wolf," "Mangus" and "Little Lamb & The Shiny Silver Bullets" are clearly inspired by Revolver-era Beatles, though seem to be interpreted through the mysterious and eerie mind of Frank Zappa. Popular music of the late '60s/early '70s pops its collective head up on multiple occasions throughout the album but is never overtly derivative, while "Eyes On The Road" seems to come from somewhere beyond the bounds of reality all together. "Pull over to the shoulder with the slow motion motels full of old rodeo clowns drown themselves in gas station garage barrages and menthol men jump rope with jumper cables while the radio blows hot air guitars across the dark starless night," Jasper recites like poetry to the devil in a low, demon-like, monotone voice. Like a stream-of-consciousness poem, the lyrics make no sense, but lend themselves to any number of interpretations.
Not since Radiohead followed up Pablo Honey with the instantly classic and timeless The Bends has a band made such a leap from a freshman to a sophomore album. I am, of course, not comparing The Fever to Radiohead, but where Pablo Honey put Radiohead on the map as another good band in 1993, The Bends skyrocketed them to the front of the pack and showed a group of men with endless artistic ambition. Since alternative radio no longer exists and MTV no longer plays videos (two avenues that helped Radiohead immensely), the comparison is slightly skewed, but nonetheless, In The City Of Sleep is the album that will move The Fever away from "another good band" and place them at the front of their NYC garage rock peers, establishing them not only as a great rock band, but also as truly talented, ambitious and imaginative "artists."