Dear Reader - Day Fever
LP CD

Tracklist

  1. Oh, The Sky! 04:50
  2. Tie Me To The Ground 03:18
  3. So Pretty So Pathetic 02:38
  4. Mean Well 04.07
  5. Wake Him 02:32
  6. Placate Her 03:33
  7. If Only Is 03:09
  8. I Know You Can Hear It 03:29
  9. Nothing Melodious 04:02
  10. Then, Not Now 03:19
  11. The Run 03:20
Dear Reader - Day Fever

Dear Reader Day Fever

February 24, 2017 | Slang50101

Life is, on occasion, terrifying. Day Fever, an album half-jokingly
named after an outdated euphemism for hysteria, embraces that. The
record is indie-pop act Dear Reader’s first in four years, and
accordingly, singer songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil looks back on the ten
days spent recording in John Vanderslice’s San Francisco studio, Tiny
Telephone, as being “psychically painful.” She laughs, but she means it.

Already far from home in Berlin, the South African musician’s trek to San
Francisco meant a huge adjustment in terms of her recording style.
Well-known as a producer for acts like Spoon and The Mountain Goats, and
a musician in his own right, Vanderslice has made a name for himself in
analog recording, something Dear Reader hadn’t explored prior to the
decision to record at Tiny Telephone. On tape, digitally correcting
small mistakes during production wasn’t an option: they’d keep a track
or erase it - all of it - and start again.

“It went against everything I felt comfortable with,” Cherilyn says, calling the loss of
control initially terrifying. She remembers a recording, for example, in
which she didn’t pronounce the ‘s’ sound at the end of a word, and
wanted to redo it. Vanderslice, though, persuaded her to cozy up to
these small mistakes, accepting imperfection as part of what makes good,
honest music. (In the age of cloud back- ups, he once impulsively
erased a track after Cherilyn’s questioning the use of a trumpet,
teaching the lesson of “gone” the hard way.)

In the end, MacNeil insists that her decision to work with Vanderslice, rather than to
produce the album herself in Berlin, was exactly what her music needed.
It was also a whole lot of fun. She jokes that before flying to San
Francisco, she’d stayed in her room making music by herself “for like,
three years.” (It’s worth mentioning that Cherilyn did venture out of
her room to win a German film prize for her work on the score for the
black-and-white Berlin movie, Oh Boy.) Ultimately, recording on tape
helped her commit to the performance and narrative act of making an
album, and to break, in her words, the habit of “editing the life out of
things.”

In Day Fever, those old habits have died, and hard. The
raw, melodious, at times discordant record has most certainly retained
its life, left fresh and untrampled by infinite do-overs. In fact, each
song on the album is the result of just one, or a maximum of two, studio
performances. For anyone who has ever discovered new music live and run
home, hands shaking with anticipation, only to find the same songs
sterile and over-produced off-stage, Dear Reader brings relief.

“Oh, the Sky,” the album’s opening track, punctuated by what could be the
drip of a mechanical IV, is a crisp, triumphant take on grief. “The
saint in the painting is fetching her home / His arms are outstretched
and he’s beckoning, come / It rattles the blinds and it shatters the
window,” Cherilyn sings. It’s painful and it’s pretty, setting the tone
for the rest of the record.

With a notable lack of reverb, Day Fever sounds more minimal, more vanguard than Dear Reader’s previous
albums, bending to match the album’s thematic pitch: if Rivonia (2013)
pulled us back into the MacNeil’s (and South Africa’s) history, Day
Fever slingshots us into the present to confront life in real time.

It’s the most naked thing Dear Reader has ever made. With lyrics that teeter
on the knife-edge of saying too much, the new album hides nothing,
preferring the gauzy ornament of biblical language to cloaking songs in
obscurity. With reference to saints, kings, prophets, holy tongues, and
beasts, Day Fever paints a world in which our secret selves, both the
noble and the ugly, lay exposed out in the sun. In “If Only Is,” we run
through a darkening forest from a clangy mix of instruments (and
arguably also from our inevitable aging): “We can’t afford to linger
long,” Cherilyn tells us. “If only is the bitterest song.” In “Placate
Her,” we wonder why we can’t just be nice to ourselves. In “I Know You
Can Hear It,” we tap our feet to the tambourine and also, incidentally,
to a tale of a king who murders women for fun. “Mean Well” is a tragic
look at vulnerability and anxiety, and in “Nothing Melodious,” the choir
echoes Dear Reader’s worst fear in investigating this kind of
suffering. “Get to a doctor,” she sings. “You’re making a fuss.”

In all its darkness, Day Fever ends on a sunsetty high. “The Run,” the
final track (which Cherilyn wrote on her phone, out running one night)
gives shape to the soaring sense of invincibility that comes with
embracing the burn of a life lived raw and open. “A choir of uneven
voices / Futile / But it’s very beautiful,” she sings. Bells toll.
Anything but insincere, Dear Reader makes you wonder if there’s anything
more important than finding beauty in imperfection.

That’s not to say this isn’t difficult, or that the album doesn’t veer towards the
void. With three tracks that beg to stop time and another two lamenting
the mundane terror that lurks in supermarket aisles and in bedrooms,
it’s definitely difficult. It’s definitely dark. But no one ever
promised otherwise. MacNeil admits it: “Right now my view seems rather
dark,” she sings in “Then, Not Now,” the penultimate track, confronting
religion and homeland one final time. If Idealistic Animals (2011) was a
eulogy of the singer’s faith, this song is a burial. In all its
lyricism and theatrics, Dear Reader affords herself a few plain words:
“It is our noblest endeavor / to improve on the past.”

And she has.

Tracklist

  1. Oh, The Sky! 04:50
  2. Tie Me To The Ground 03:18
  3. So Pretty So Pathetic 02:38
  4. Mean Well 04.07
  5. Wake Him 02:32
  6. Placate Her 03:33
  7. If Only Is 03:09
  8. I Know You Can Hear It 03:29
  9. Nothing Melodious 04:02
  10. Then, Not Now 03:19
  11. The Run 03:20

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