There’s always more going on with Alias than can at first be heard or described. 2008’s Resurgam, one of the strongest albums of the decade, felt a little like it could have been made by Four Tet on indie-drugs. The album’s tuneful instrumental tracks, plus collaborations with fellow Anticon founder Yoni Wolf (of Why? fame) and The One Am Radio were masterful, listenable, and, above all, catchy. It’s an album you could leave after one listen, feeling decidedly impressed, and never listen to again. But spin it again and you’ll find subtlety layered upon subtlety.
Can the same be said for his new work, Fever Dream? Altogether different, this record sounds a little like the feeling that the title suggests, while downplaying a number of the elements which made Resurgam so effective. The result is slightly labored, a little more somber, and sometimes weird. It doesn’t have the same light touch, nor the sense that every track could stand on its own as a kind of mini-anthem.
For starters, “Goinswimmin”, Fever Dream’s first track, is vignette-like, serving as a lead-in for the album’s first single, “Wanna Let it Go”. The two tracks – presumably placed in this way so that they could be heard, effectively, as one track – don’t signal that the album will have a pop element, really, at all. To that end, it feels like a strange choice for an opener and a single, particularly given that Resurgam showcased a style that could easily bring Alias more fans than he has right now. With Fever Dream, the beats are slower, and you have to work a little more for a sense that what you’re hearing is great music.
All this, though, is to the artist’s credit. Swapping pop for psychedelica (try the bizarre “Talk in Technicolor”) but also trading easy listening for a sense of twisted difficulty, Alias subverts his own success in the name of experimentation, and evolution, as many great artists do.
Of course, that’s not to say that this is a hard album to listen to. For every “difficult” track, there are constructions so blissfully sweet that you’ll want to listen to them again. “Boom Boom Boom”, for example, is a playful tune, dream-like keyboard rattling happily over a simple, effective beat. “Revi Is Divad”, on the other hand, is expansive, sophisticated, and full of the tweaked, treated, and well considered drum loops that made Alias so great, complete with a catchy melodic progression to boot.
Still further, the album’s use of vocal samples, something less prevalent on Resurgam, feels incredibly fresh, and produces some of Fever Dream’s best moments. Nearly two minutes into “Lady Lambin'”, the ghostly melody of its female voice gives way to yet another nicely placed beat, marking a real “Ah!” moment for the album. The whole album is full of this sort of pay off. Alias has excelled by undermining himself, and the effect is nothing short of brilliant.