Review : Alias - Fever Dream
PopmattersSeldom has an album been so aptly titled. Fever Dream isn’t so much a record as it is a delirious aural hallucination, one that will feel like a reverie that you can’t quite pin down. Songs don’t start or end but bleed into each other, changing moods seamlessly but capriciously. By the time it’s over, you may not be sure that you can remember all of it but you’ll want to recapture as much of it as you can. It’s only 42 minutes long and consists purely of instrumental electronic hip-hop beats, but it’s hard to imagine another album this year that will reward repeated listening more.
Much of the criticism that surrounded Alias’ last album, Resurgam (2008), is that it was little more than a mellowed-out holding action, one that sounded pleasant but was ultimately forgettable. Fever Dream isn’t quite the radical reinvention some fans might be clamoring for (especially after three years) but Alias has delivered an album that can’t be accused of taking the easy way out. Even the best tracks on Resurgam, such as “Autumnal Ego” and the title cut, were more about the individual details than the overall song. Here Alias has done the reverse, concentrating on song structures rather than minor production niceties, which is much more of a challenge. A standout track on this album such as “Tagine”, for instance, takes a simple melody and weaves multiple variations on it, from minimalist rhythms to elaborate walls of sound. The trick is that Alias never loses focus on the basic melody, using it as a basis to experiment with but without wandering or getting lost in trivialities. It would have easy to argue that Alias sometimes had a tendency to lazily crank out formless jams that he would make slight embellishments to, but that argument doesn’t hold water here.
Moreover, Alias just sounds like he wants to rock. If one of the prevailing swipes at the Anticon crew is that they tend to be too cerebral to actually crank out enjoyable beats, then Fever Dream demonstrates that Alias has clearly heard that condemnation and wants to refute it. Consider the album’s standout track, the brutal “Dahorses”, which, clocking in at a mere four minutes, packs more of a wallop than virtually anything in the Anticon catalog before. Here Alias has constructed a barrage of noise that almost threatens to lose control but never really does. It’s almost intoxicating in its audacity, especially considering that Alias’ previous work was dismissed in some quarters as somnambulant. Even a more restrained song like “Wanna Let It Go”, which mixes soulful singing and more reserved dynamics, still burbles with vitality. In the one-sheet that accompanies the album, Alias (born Brendon Whitney) explains that the album was primarily inspired by the birth of his daughter, and it’s easy to hear his exuberance, which comes through on even the quietest moments....full text
ResidentadvisorBrendon Whitney, founder of indie and weirdo hip-hop label Anticon, has a prolific production career as Alias, proffering a kind of old-school-indebted, lush hip-hop independent from chunky L.A. beat styles. His debut album The Other Side of the Looking Glass was full of old-school leaning hip-hop spelled out in dusty sampled breaks, but by the time we got to his fourth and latest solo album, 2008's Resurgam, rich synth sounds and gorgeous melodies had begun to subsume the percussive frameworks. His fifth album Fever Dream further displays a more cosmopolitan, otherworldly sound—one that's less orthodox and freer to meander.
Tightly constructed, with not a moment wasted or a single throwaway track, Dream has none of the tangential or slapdash qualities of modern instrumental hip-hop. Alias fashions tunes out of broken synths, sawn-off bits of organ and God knows what being banged together. Whitney's stitched-together quiltwork feels detailed and elaborate and never, well, stitched-together. "Feverdreamin" is like a cross between Forest Swords and Madonna's Ray of Light, and most other tracks find a similar unexpected synthesis through the fusing of disparate elements.
While the break-driven sound is mostly gone, it's not as if these are beatless tracks: rather, songs like "Goinswimmin" or "Revl Is Divad" are powered by complex, top-heavy loops, not unlike the recent work of Eskmo. They're also constantly shifting and evolving, changing from choppy to fluid and back at the drop of a pin ("Lady Lambin," "Boom Boom Boom"). Instead of relying on guest vocalists as on past records, Dream is nearly completely instrumental save for its library of samples (and a meek vocal turn on "Talk in Technicolor,"), whether it be a full-throated singer on the heatstroke heart-wringer "Wanna Let It Go" or choked onomatopoeia on "Sugarpeeee." It's an album that often feels beautifully warm-blooded yet still strangely automated. Aptly-titled, Fever Dream's gentle and imaginative hip-hop beats waft by leisurely, attractive on the surface but substantive and personal on the inside....full text
NoripcordIt was only when listening to Fever Dream for the final time before starting to write this review that I realised what an incredibly appropriate name it is. Whilst dreamy and ethereal in its chilled, electronic sound, the latest album by Maine-based hip-hop artist and producer Alias has a feverish element that runs throughout; an underlying feeling of unrest brought about by dark, distorted samples and some devilishly wicked beats.
The opening track, Goinswimmin, sets the mood for the album perfectly. With a triphop beat reminiscent of Melody AM / The Understanding-era Röyskopp, a slow and haunting repeated lyric “Only a fool would ignore this” and heavily reverberated instrumental samples, Goinswimmin is a powerful, atmospheric introduction. Goinswimmin runs into Wanna Let It Go, another wonderfully mysterious track that's altogether dubbier, with a synthesized riff and vocal samples that wouldn't sound out of place on a Burial album. Fever Dream briefly dabbles in more traditional instrumental hip-hop beats, before venturing off into breakbeat and more complex Four Tet-style rhythms, even moving onto Asian beats at one stage. All the while, the music maintains a chilled and enigmatic edge.
At times, Alias's obsession with repeated samples, both vocal and instrumental, becomes somewhat tedious. Lady Lambin' is a prime example of this; an agonisingly out-of-tune sample, no more than a couple of bars long, is repeated to excess, ruining what would otherwise be one of the standout tracks on the album. Boom Boom Boom and Tagine are further examples of tracks where a more reserved use of samples would have been welcome....full text
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