Geremy Jasper's singing is temperamental and bratty, hurled out like insults from the mouth of a sassy adolescent. Overtop the catapults and javelins of his band's instrumentalists -- pogoing drum beats, elastic bass, and springy guitars that fly out like Jacks-in-the-Box -- the Fever is a band whose kinetics are so ferocious, keeping up can be exhausting. Listening quickly becomes an act of simply trying to hold on, as the vehicle of their sound careens about haphazardly, without controls, without breaks.
This is not to say that the Fever are sloppy or even necessarily reckless. Au contraire: the five-piece work cleanly and cautiously within the confines of contemporary postpunk, like a wild driver on a bumper car course. And like that hellcat behind the wheel, no matter how fast or frenzied things get, the danger -- and even excitement -- is always reined in by the track's borders.
To their credit, in their best moments they sound rare and animate, so vibrantly on fire that they cross over from just pleasant into highly enjoyable and contagiously listenable. The jagged bounce of "Gray Ghost" and acrid jumble "Hexxxed" are fireworks hot and similarly surprising -- explosive, shimmery, bursts. "Put It on You", a curious mix of rockabilly and postpunk, is one of the album's most memorable numbers, despite its less-than-racer pace. Jasper's voice isn't great -- grating might be a more accurate description -- but he works what's he's got to its fullest extent. He keeps that sneer up in his head then bleats as if all the orifices in his head are itching, a haughty irritation that sticks in your head like a burr. His voice and their party-time lyrics (full of "zebra's stripes", "real cool jerks", and "whip cracks") paint a sultry-sordid picture over their musical canon, twinging in minor tones and slamming all over as every instrument is tuned almost to the level of distortion.
Still, anybody who argues that the Fever play it relatively safe and have few innovations is right, too. The dance-punk mania having long since moved from hip-shaking to yawn inducing, the cynical listener may find Fever's pomp and pizzazz to be a rather comical reminder of how we partied when it was 1999 (or, at least, 2001). If only we were so young and fresh to be as easily excitable as the Fever-ish crew sound on "Ladyfingers"! If only '80s-ish synth and mechanical basslines were still interesting! If only Jasper's pissy spits on "Artificial Heart" called to mind a soul full of vinegar rather than a trust fund full of Benjamins! To put it bluntly, too many years of Vice magazine and PBR-sponsored rock shows have made differentiating between truth and artifice, soul and artful soullessness, not only a harrowing but also a boring endeavor. Relative latecomers like the Fever suffer from our jadedness, however earnest they might be.
Thus, it's tough to say whether The Fever should be appreciated or disdained for going apeshit within well-worn terrain. As lame as it is to be trend-conscious -- disparaging music simply for appearing unfashionably late -- it's just as depressing to think that there's nothing a tad more curious to be done with a guitar, a bass, a keyboard, a kit, and a singer. Jamming to Red Bedroom feels like going to the local chain restaurant and ordering the same thing you always do. If it's safe and relatively tasty, so be it. But sometimes, don't you want to be nourished by that which leaves a taste in your mouth and a fire in your belly?