EP Review: Fever Dolls – Phantasm at Lake Wallenpaupack

Fever Dolls have entered the stage, and their showstopping debut, The Phantasm at Lake Wallenpaupack, demands a standing ovation.

It may be their first EP, but the project has been a long time coming. Songwriter Evan Allis and singer Renn Mulloy have been making music together since they met in college. After years of playing the local scene in Burlington, Vermont, they decided to shift their sound and embark on something more cinematic, more ridiculous, less defined by genre. After solidifying their lineup with guitarist Erik Benepe, bassist Mitchell Parrish, and drummer Willis Mathewson, the group relocated to New York City.

Produced by Paul Q. Kolderie (Pixies, Radiohead), The Phantasm at Lake Wallenpaupack showcases what the Fever Dolls do best: writing irresistible melodies across an impressive range of genres. From the disco fever dream of ‘Out of Vogue’ to the sobering poignancy of ‘From Dusk to Dawn,’ Phantasm is tied together by the call-and-response of Mulloy’s breathtaking vocals and Allis’ Springsteen-esque rasp. Filled with big hooks and catchy melodies, their EP has pretty much everything you need: faith in love, the best cowbell solo you’ll hear in a minute, and lyrics like “All it brought you was a life in perpetual motion / An ex-wife and a taste for suppressing emotion.”

‘Out of Vogue’ might be the catchiest song of the year. With its rhythmic intensity, driving bassline, and 1980’s vibe, it feels like it should be playing in a Dirty Dancing montage as Patrick Swayze struts across the dance floor. Mind you, it’s not just a catchy tune with a killer guitar solo – the lyrics revel in their theatricality: “Who’s got the television on at the worst time of the week? My baby’s calling me from a county clink!” cry out Mulloy and Allis, to be answered by a chorus singing, “My mother drinks, the doctor thinks I’m crazy, says I should blame my father for the life that awaits me.” The lyrics are so catchy that you don’t even notice the irony because you’re too busy singing along. But every word is meticulously chosen and every image creates an aesthetic that is quintessentially… Fever Dolls! They’ve got a vibe that’s totally unique to them – just check out their music videos to see what I mean.

Of all the tracks, Allis’ songwriting shines in ‘All The Best Debts.’ In this dynamic show-opener, the lyrics make the track feel personal yet universal in their specificity: “I’ve got a fear of making love in the dark / And getting near enough to break my heart / And I hear you met your conscience clearing up the Boston bars.” Allis has noted that, “I usually write songs like short stories, giving my characters names and fictional backgrounds. All the Best Debts is more confessional than that. I had just ended a two year relationship, moved to a new city, and was noticing that the lives of my friends were now more varied than they’d ever been; some were getting married, some were living with their parents, some had really good jobs and others were living with 6 roommates. I put it all in this song, which has an expansive quality that I think matches that feeling of impending flight or impending doom.”

Reading like a collection of short stories, Phantasm at Lake Wallenpaupack features a variety of eclectic characters whose lives weave in and out of each other, only to come together at the end. And just like a great book of stories, each song in Phantasm is meticulously crafted – a world into its own that speaks to the broader themes of the record: getting older, facing mortality, falling in love, messing it all up. It’s music that celebrates what it’s like to be human – making mistakes, feeling like you’re not quite good enough, drinking too much, wishing you could sing like Madonna (hot take: Renn Mulloy has better vocals than Madonna). But instead of preaching to their listeners, Fever Dolls get us to loosen up and dance – to forgive ourselves, to pay our dues, and move on.

The band will be donating the next three months of Fever Dolls’ streaming and merchandise revenue to G.L.I.T.S. and the Emergency Release Fund.

Gemma Laurence

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