Erin Wolf

Fever Marlene

By - May 1st, 2008 02:52 pm
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Milwaukee’s Fever Marlene have a serious work ethic – they’ve unflaggingly made their presence known since taking up residence in their Historic Fifth Ward creative/living space, absorbing the industriousness of their neighborhood. Scott Starr (guitars, keys, vocals) and Kevin Dunphy (drums, vocals), a duo whose sound is more fleshed out than many a four- or five-piece can claim, received solid praise for their 2007 release Civil War, and their songs spin through the airwaves of local radio stations not just because they’re “Milwaukee music,” but because their music is that good.

With White China, Starr and Dunphy are striding it out after a run of successful previous releases. Recorded in the infamous Chelsea Hotel in New York City, Fever Marlene have returned home to release it on their very own Rev Pop label.

Dense with pianos, synthesizers, strings and various percussion and held together by Starr’s expressive tenor and Dunphy’s lovely shadow-harmonies, White China shows that the band is comfortable enough to make slight alterations, but clever enough to stick to the formula. On “Oh Berlin,” the piano intro sets an echo-y Motown backbeat, but when brassy guitar chords and Starr’s soft voice kick in, the effect is anything but dated. The sincerity of the songs lies in the vocals and lyrics, and the instrumentation follows suit by default.

The upbeat “Lemon King Mahoney” and country-tinged “How Do You Love?” are diversions from the duo’s blanket of rainy-day pop. “Check for Pulse” gets closer with its looped beats and distantly drawled-out guitars – the only thing missing is the hushed sound of raindrops. White China is not Fever Marlene’s pluckiest album, but it is solidly pretty and genuinely enjoyable. Starr and Dunphy have proven that they are more than capable of the songsmith careers they have chosen.

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