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“Dream Fever” by Cleo Alexandra

Groove-oriented indie pop is so much more than a genre, or even a sound. It’s an identity that takes many working parts to completely develop and connect with, and in her new single “Dream Fever,” Cleo Alexandra personifies it better than almost any of the other musicians in her scene I’ve heard this year. She isn’t completely without a melodic foundation similar to her peers in “Dream Fever;” the instruments are here to help out with the postmodern feel of the R&B-like swing in the beat, but beneath every word this singer is made to utter and every beat she’ll finesse into something tangible and charged to the audience, there’s a moodiness powering everything we hear in this master mix. It’s powerful, but nothing I don’t think we can’t expect from this player in the future as well. 

Instrumentally speaking, this track has a rather old school vibe – but this is about the structure of the music more than the actual execution by the player herself. What separates “Dream Fever” from the sea of forgettable throwbacks filling up the indie section of the record store this fall is the not-so-subtle emotionality of its narrative and the stunning colors its melody produces. This is high-definition audio with an old-fashioned blueprint, which results in something I think generations young and old the same will be able to dig in some fashion or another.  

I love the way this crooner can come into her set of verses at different speeds, almost demanding a unique reaction from the listener without ever having to battle for the lion’s share of our affections. There’s no need to pile the words on top of each other with the hopes of sparking some sort of kindling in this single; it’s better to let each line contribute its persona to the canvas at hand, as to give us as full-bodied and complete an illustration of their collective message as possible.  

There’s a versatility to this beat that screams remix possibilities at me whenever I listen to it, but I don’t think Cleo Alexandra should feel pressured to get right back into the studio with the bones of this single. There is certainly a component of the rhythm here that could be reworked into something more suited for the dancefloor than the decadence of basking in the song’s ethereal melodicism alone, but even if she decided to leave this mix as the lone incarnation of “Dream Fever,” I think the point she was trying to make about the limitations of pop/rock and neo-soul in a mainstream setting these days remains the same. 

A mind-blowing combination of talent and raw charm that ultimately leaves me wondering how Cleo Alexandra has been able to go without scoring much of the American spotlight in her career so far, “Dream Fever” is a pop crossover single that doesn’t give up once it gets started. The vocals are grand, the harmonies are crisp, and above all else, this is a song that speaks to the aesthetical virtues of a closely guarded cultural tradition we need to see more experimentation with in 2022. Alexandra is all about keeping the spirit of original pop music alive, and her efforts here verify that emphatically.  

Mindy McCall

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