Immediately notable for the simple fact that they come from China – by way of (where else?) Lawrenceville, New Jersey – the heavy power-rocking trio The Fever Machine have hooks to spare. The band call the material on their self-released debut full-length, Living in Oblivion, “schizo rock,” but I couldn’t disagree more. Nothing on these nine tracks is happening by mistake, and the Shanghai three-piece are never out of control, from the three-part vocal arrangement of opener “Hell Yeah” to the maddening infectiousness in the chorus of the finale “The Arouser.” Their songwriting is varied, which I think might be what they’re talking about with the self-imposed genre designation, but really, these songs are more put together than the imbalance a word like “schizo” implies. They effectively blend pop accessibility with a riff-rock edge and veer occasionally into punk (the bopping “Blind Faith”), rockabilly (the motoring “Out of Touch”) and even add flourishes of psychedelia to longer tracks like “Synesthesia” and “Don Pedro,” which offset the otherwise alternate-universe-radio-friendly bounce of some of the other material. Vocalist/guitarist Danny, bassist/vocalist Fabi and drummer/vocalist Miggs are maddeningly tight, and the production is likewise crisp and professional, starting with the drum beat reminiscent of “Hurricane” from Kyuss’ …And the Circus Leaves Town that launches into “Hell Yeah,” a song that, once it gets going, is poppy enough to make Torche blush. Still, that accessibility doesn’t come at the cost of any warmth of tone, and especially from Fabi, the bass fills are thick and excellently supplement the riffs to fill out The Fever Machine’s overall approach. There will be those for whom it’ll simply be too clean, too poppy, too perfect-sounding, but the level of craft on Living in Oblivion is undeniable, and for the vocal arrangements alone – they waste no time showing a taste for the à la Queens of the Stone Age lush in the second half of “Hell Yeah” – there’s much about the album that demands attention.
“Blind Faith” uses a start-stop intro and interplay between Danny and Miggs/Fabi to show off more purposefulness in 45 seconds than some bands show in their entire career, and like much of Living in Oblivion – if not all of it – the song that ensues is brimming with energy. At 3:22, it’s a classic radio hook, and “The Milfshake,” which follows, uses pretty much the same methodology in its start, even upping the presence of the bass groove. The difference, though, is “The Milfshake” is instrumental, allowing time to process the choruses that The Fever Machine have already put forth even as it branches out the sound with a second-half circus-style build that pays off in more echoing guitar and tonal hum from Fabi to bridge directly into the opening of “Dance with Deviance,” a landmark in the record’s 42-minute runtime. Once again, the band knows exactly what they’re doing, and there’s no mistaking the purposefulness of their push. Miggs double-times it on the hi-hat for the verse, and opens up to Songs for the Deaf-style punctuation during the chorus, which only makes it hit harder, and Danny’s vocals drive home lines second only to the closer in being memorable. It’s them at their most Queens of the Stone Age, perhaps, but it works. The guitar solo bridge has a personality of its own as well, and as “Synesthesia” follows with a slower, slide-infused groove, the band are pretty aware of balance. Danny’s and the backing vocals come out of sync in the chorus, and especially after the simple, thick, rolling groove of the verse, it’s just gorgeous as a payoff, earning its spot as the centerpiece of Living in Oblivion while, like “The Milfshake,” expanding the sonic reach of both the band and the album. The midsection solo/bridge picks up the pace, but at just under six minute, there’s more room in the song for The Fever Machine to take their time in getting back to the chorus, and they do, Fabi laying down some foundational jam lines in the process. It’s a smooth build, and not the last one on offer here.