Everything Everything has never played it safe and therein lies their true appeal.
In A Fever Dream’s penultimate track, the sparse “New Deep,” Everything Everything’s singer Jonathan Higgs repeatedly ponders, “Is there something wrong with all of this?/ Or is there something wrong with me?” Sweeping pianos and subtle orchestration waft his musings around, but no answer is presented. Everything Everything reach for the BIG ideas in an almost Arcade Fire-like Herculean effort, with the goal to condense them into bite-sized pop nuggets of cathartic release. Whereas many bands keep the big ideas big, Everything Everything bring things down to a more personal lyrical level.
It is ironic then that, for the most part, A Fever Dream is bombastic to the point of being overwhelming — every chorus crests and peaks in a grandiose explosion of vocal harmonies, trebly guitar riffage high up the neck and crackling drums. At times, it can feel anthemic to the point of redundancy, like the warped echoing of a distant note from a far off arena stage. However, there are moments when everything comes together in perfect union, and that larger-than-life echo strikes a direct hit.
Take the album’s title track, a house influenced ballad that coasts on deep piano stabs before retreating to a whirlwind of glitching synths. Its payoff is immense with an arrangement more indebted to the ebb and flow of dance music. “I hate the neighbours, they hate me too/ The fear and the fury make me feel good,” opines Higgs, and the feeling is far too recognizable for comfort. In the age of widespread internet usage, a time when everyone has the means to openly spew vitriol and hate in public forums under the guise of anonymity, it’s hard to tell exactly who you can trust. “I wanted to sum up an awful lot with something childish and blunt,” he would reveal in a Reddit AMA. “It’s become the language of politics and a lot of other things.”
Politics, mostly in a personal sense, dominate Higgs’s lyrics in A Fever Dream, though they’re presented in oblique and unobvious ways. “Good Shot, Good Soldier” is the most blatant, though its soaring chorus of “If I’m wrong then strike me down…If I’m right then light my way/ Can you tell me the difference?” tugs at all the right strings, mostly because it feels deserved. Disguised as the first relative moment of calm, it takes a full minute for things to ramp up into the arp-laden chorus before fading back into a verse’s relative calm. Meanwhile, “Put Me Together” tears itself apart in a noisy fit mid-way through, though Higgs takes a chance to recall his neighborhood rivalry with the concerned, “They celebrate all of the same days/ And you see them out doing the garden/ But they’re nothing like you and me.”
There is a sense of claustrophobia in Everything Everything’s music—as if they want to truly live up to their moniker and pile every sound on top of one another. “Night of the Long Knives” kicks things off with a relentless drone of low end, whether it be in their synth’s laser precision or Higgs’s harmonized wail in both lower and upper octaves. But it all feels a bit rushed, an end of the marathon burst without any warm up, and the urgency feels a bit tiring in a world where everything is urgent.
Higgs shines on “Desire,” his warped take on ‘60s melodies that finds him stretching his vocals like silly putty over a glammy drum romp, angular guitar riffage and more of those heavy synth drones that are bubbling under every song. Meanwhile, there is nothing subtle about the space disco of “Can’t Do,” though it’s mind bending arrangement makes up for any lack of dynamics.
A Fever Dream tosses and turns but never manages to escape from the modern world’s reality of greed, corruption and hatred. While their dedicatedly crafted music can be a bit much at times, there is a charm to the uniqueness of Everything Everything’s music. They have never played it safe and therein lies their true appeal.