Review/Listen: The Octopus Project – Fever Forms

The-Octopus-Project-Fever-Forms-Bminus Fever Forms is The Octopus Project’s way of shouting where before they had only spoken. It is a record of singularity, and a unified state of expression for the extremely creative Austin-based band. They have started to create, on this record, what might be termed a progressive indie pop, but it is more digitalized, electronica-based, and futuristic than that. It is an animated way of making rock music. It sounds incandescent – proud in its definition, crackling with purposeful intent through each track. In their words, the album is “living in the future and the past at the same time,” and “post-ears, pre-brains” – these songs are truly vivid meanders over the surfaces of dystopian worlds that the eight-handed group has formed for themselves.

Their initial releases were an outlandish electro-pop and post-rock, and then the band started moving towards a very electronic-sounding indie-rock, finally tightening their aim on a certain target, 2010’s minimalist and modernist electro-concerto Hexadecagon. The band says the album took some of its influence from Steve Reich in terms of its compositional qualities, and some from The Flaming LipsZaireeka in the way that it was presented – eight speakers and eight projectors orchestrated simultaneously. This was simultaneously a headier way of making music, and less towards what a traditional “catchy” album might sound like – this was a conceptual and creative art-show.

The band continues to concentrate and focus their sound, and it makes its return from artiness to catchiness – Fever Forms aggressively revisits Moog-synthesizer prog-rock, like a highly modernized and layered Devo. With this album, they have shown what seems to be a fresh level of comfort in fusing technologies with analog rock – showing that their digital machines are, all the same, instruments to be played upon, rather than losing themselves in the midst of precise layering and texturing like a lesser band might. Their music has always had a certain playfulness, a la Deerhoof, where it seems the band will have a good time even if no one else does – and while that is especially apparent on this album, and infectious on a lot of the songs, their self-conscious stylings can become a little tiring.

The band also finds themselves straying a little on the derivative side of things when they take themselves a little too seriously – especially so on “The Man with the Golden Hand” and “The Mythical E.L.C.”, whose synth freak-outs and patterns just feel a little too expected. But there are many times when Octopus Project push the edges of their sound away from the norm and strive into new territory. Their darker songs feature campy post-punk Interpol-like intensity, on the passionate “Mmkit”, as well as on mesmerizing opener “The Falls”. “Deep Spice” quiets things down with wordless, dramatic art-pop, rather like a TV on the Radio instrumental from recent years.

Ultimately, when the band is at their most naturally poppy and progressive, though, it becomes a real joy to listen to. “Death Graduates” has a lovely Fiery Furnaces-type quality to it, with an irregular rhythmic pattern, and oblique, catchy chant-like singing over a very groovy little guitar line and percussion combo. “Sharpteeth”, the last song and first single from the album, also demonstrates recognition of the wonders of simplicity, and hooks in hard with a dance-robot-dance synth line, harmonized theremins, and solid, visceral drumming.

All in all, though, there’s not enough middle ground to really relax into the album; it lacks subtlety, and is always on fire and unyieldingly intense. It is a party album – but not something you’d put on at a party. The best way to put it is this: take the concept of a ‘fever dream,’ if you will, and think about what such a term means to you. Now, lessen that quality of sweaty mysticism – break it out of its dreaminess, and collect what is left over – the confusing precision of surrealism, the reverence for a half-understood profundity, a touch of the profane, and all the recurrent and requisite elements that swell and spill against each other. Bring all that to the surface, and you have one hell of a dream journal when you wake up. Within the fresh awe of being awakened, this is rather what you’re getting yourself into when you listen to this album.

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