Cleo Alexandra is an ambitious composer, but even at her most elaborate in the recording studio, she still knows when to say enough is enough with an indulgent aspect of her sound. There’s a lot of fuss being made over the excesses some of her rivals in the pop underground are utilizing in 2022, but they’re mostly absent from her new single “Dream Fever” this October. In their place is nothing more than the pillars of soul and progressive R&B as they were always meant to be enjoyed – unburdened by the glam of an uncultured pop format. The energy, the style, really everything here speaks to the personality of the fantastic songstress at the microphone.
The hook here is pretty understated, but Alexandra can get away with it because of how potent a vocalist she is when it counts, leading up the lyrical duties with a melodic wit certain to take your breath away. She’s got a lot of brawn to her singing, but she’s able to control it much as one would the stream of water pouring out of a kitchen faucet; with a precision that could make an unaware soul wonder just how she does it. The talent is natural, and once more, totally accessible to the listener.
She does hold back a little more than she probably had to with her vocal during the chorus in “Dream Fever,” but I can also say that I love what her hesitance introduces to the mood of these lyrics right off the bat. Alexandra doesn’t have to get gushy with her harmonies to assert a feeling of fleeting intimacy that is synonymous with the moments directly preceding the conclusion of an epic romance. She’s holding on to this love with everything she’s got, and even if it disappears from her grip before the song’s end, she’s getting her passions out on the table one way or another.
Indie pop as a genre is splitting up again after another decade of relative continuity that produced a familiar slew of hits but little excitement on the backend of the 2010s, and I think forward-thinking players like Cleo Alexandra are going to come out on the winning side of this division. In breaking up what had started to feel like an environment of creative stagnation towards the latter half of the previous decade, artists like this one are going to be able to hammer out hybridity without intensified scrutiny from a so-called pop “establishment” in crossovers like this one. This benefits the fans tremendously, as well as discriminating critics like myself and go-getting songwriters like Alexandra the same.
David Lee Marshall