Cherilyn MacNeil has never sounded as vulnerable as she does on Day Fever, her fourth LP as Dear Reader. A dream-pop documentation of death, embarrassment, grief, and anxiety, the album pairs sharp, searching lyrical observations with purposefully spare instrumentation. On the hushed, acoustic, “Nothing Melodious,” MacNeil sings about a relationship that is breaking down. The song is clear-eyed in its approach: MacNeil seems to take the blame for lapses in communication, while also calling out her lovers’ failure to understand her. Other tracks—like “Wake Him” and “I Know You Can Hear It”—rely more on metaphor, using third-person perspective and biblical characters as fronts for MacNeil’s vulnerability.
Sonically, the album is the perfect complement to MacNeil’s naked self-expression. It’s remarkably sparse, MacNeil’s voice mixed far up front. She and producer John Vanderslice opted to leave any mistakes during the recording process intact, giving the album an authentic, imperfect feel. The recordings may lack polish, but they have a strong sense of emotional immediacy. “Wake Him” relies mainly on MacNeil’s vocals and organ, which are only occasionally joined by percussion and horns. “Tie Me To The Ground” is a piano ballad, through which float gentle choir vocals. On Day Fever, MacNeil embraces her imperfections; the result is an honest self-portrait that resonates long after its final notes fade.