Mercury Rising

Touch me, I'm sick: The Fever
Courtesy of Girlie Action

"I'm dying for a living," cries Geremy Jasper. While the singer is very much alive on the Fever's full-length debut, Red Bedroom (Kemado), the lyric mimics the album's fixation on the macabre love of lady-killers. This red bedroom isn't where one goes to bump and grind--it's a final resting place. Unlike Peggy Lee's famously horny fever, the band's affliction is the kind that staves off infection. Like a physiological fever, the New York five-piece band resists bad vibes by going into overdrive, running on Gary Numan-engineered pistons of robo-dance and new wave. Fittingly, the band comes from a city where yellow fever wreaked havoc in the late 1790s, killing many and prompting survivors to believe the moral shortcomings of city dwellers fostered the plague.

The immoral scourge that brought this Fever into being is a femme fatale, and Jasper is among the poor bastards who fell victim to her. Take a look at the album's cover (all art was done by Jasper) and you'll see her: A mannequin with a model's face lies on a bed and three faceless gents are beside her, waiting their turn. There's a black glove next to the bed and a lion in the distance. The dudes don't stand a chance.

The irresistible allure of a woman afforded so much control by her foolish, love-starved suitors is what sets Jasper off. But instead of damning her, he is enraptured. "I walk on my hands for you, thorns all in place, worn out like a saint," he yammers on "Ladyfingers." His words don't exactly celebrate this sadistic grim reaper, but they paint a stirring portrait of what it's like to try to love her--and survive to sing about it.

The Fever imbue Red Bedroom with dance-floor-ready rhythmic propulsions that build, break down, and recoup. Herky-jerky Madchester-esque tempos gussy things up like strewn silk sheets, but the mattress is all about pop. (Your worst '80s dance moves will not go to waste.) The aggressive percussion and neon-radiating synth come off as if someone bitch-slapped an Olivia Newton John video. While the songs have a frigid undercurrent, the music glistens with sweat.

The album begins with a pair of tunes focusing on moribund characters. Shivering hi-hat cymbals set the stage for "Cold Blooded," a profile of an ice queen--"a real cool jerk," reminiscent of the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter series (albeit with sex appeal). These literary figures suck the life out of their victims' mouths, and you know they're around when the temperature drops. Same goes for this dame. With "dry ice lips," she makes Sno-Cones out of her victims, which freaks Jasper to no end. His rabid howling tries to shake her memory. But he's still shrieking on the exceptionally catchy "Gray Ghost," whose subject spies her target as Jasper warns, "It's a con! She's putting you on!" Not that he himself isn't equally smitten and powerless on the tellingly titled "Labor of Love" and "Artificial Heart."

But that's not to say the Fever can't call their mistress's bluff. On "Slow Club," the band becomes bored of la femme's tricks and Jasper proclaims her moves "tired." The music's pace is less alarming here, peppered with unimpressed basslines, and the drama feels as if it's manufactured by someone who has nothing better to do than place a limp back-of-the-hand to his forehead and sigh. "And I wanted to die, wanted to die," Jasper moans in a rather faaabulous sort of way.

His pulse slows even further on the woozy "Dream Machine." Wafts of stark guitar notes float and linger, all smothered in near-lifeless whispers. This is what happens when you read too much Poe late at night and fall asleep to The Wall. Gotta wonder if, after a night in the red bedroom, you'll ever wake up.

Of course, more than half the album can be filed in the "paranoid" folder. The almost exclusive theme of impending doom can get a bit hypochondriacal, and the anxious, expertly wound rhythms are a giveaway that it's time to stop watching so many conspiracy-theory programs. The sniveling, nursery rhymey "Hexxxed" sounds like it was recorded in a factory with Willy Wonka as conductor. Terse guitars and pot-and-pan clanging swells and recedes while Jasper swirls the chorus in his throat, "It's over! The vulture's over your shoulder!" Call it Fever-induced hysteria, but there's no denying the burn.

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