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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mercury Rev Poisoning

posted by on October 23 at 16:54 PM

Mercury Rev - 'Strange Attractor'

It was looking a little shaky there.

You know, what with Mercury Rev, Buffalo’s long-running widescreen indie fantasists, recording one of the most pastoral and wondered albums of the late ’90s in the form of Deserter’s Songs, and then following it up with years of increasingly daft and unintentionally comic soft-rock cheese.

But Snowflake Midnight, which came out last month, is somewhat of a re-alignment of the band’s lost ethereal strengths, built from songs like “Senses On Fire,” which float and sparkle along like light on a lake.

It was released, incidentally, to the day, on the 10-year anniversary of Deserter’s Songs.

What’s even more interesting, though, is the all-instrumental bonus sister-album Strange Attractor, which Mercury Rev just put out for free on their web-site at the same time, and follows the best threads of the band’s reboot.

Whole careers have been based on Deserter’s Songs, a musical virus, from The Flaming Lips to The Polyphonic Spree to Of Montreal. Wayne Coyne, in fact, has, consciously or not, patterned the creative arc of The Flaming Lips on Mercury Rev’s years-long progression from the busted squall of the early records to the lush, haunted, ‘Wizard Of Oz’-styled surreal optimism of the subsequent ones, and it’s been entertaining to watch the alternate realities swarm around the same idea.

Mercury Rev were first, of course. And first to become shit. So the fact that Strange Attractor is one of the best things the band has ever done, and free as well, suggests the parallel stories are not quite over.

Opening track “Love Is Pure” is a quiet rise of single-note pianos and small, steady waves of electronic South Asian sounds, gone before you know it, like a lost Brian Eno record, and it’s a lovely little thing. Then, urgent and hypnotic, there’s “Because Because Because,” which shows an influence of mid-period “Hoops”/”The Sunshine Underground” Chemical Brothers, a hushed side-effect from their one-time collaborators. Some songs only last a minute or two. If bits like “Loop, Lisse, Loop” might sound like bad planetarium jazz, there are also loads that recall Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack to 2002’s ‘Solaris,’ but more innocent and old-fashioned, like a big wind-up toy.

It’s a slight, sideways collection of songs.

A real surprise.

Exactly what Mercury Rev needed to make.


RSS icon Comments



Posted by paulus | October 23, 2008 6:56 PM

Great idea, but why not just go the whole nine and make both free to the public, particularly if the band is hurtin' for acclaim. Radio Boy, one of Matthew Herbert's alter egos, did something similar years ago with "THe Mechanics of Destruction" (though that was more a protest to crass commercialism than anything else). Radiohead almost had it, but had to offer lower bit-rates. Finally, NIN have made their last two releases free for download (though one might ask whether or not we should have ever had to pay for the teen-boy-angst lyrics of Trent Reznor).

I wonder if there's some type of equation in the minds of labels/musicians that seems to equate lyrics with loot. A lot of the albums I see for free (not counting crappy free DRM itunes singles) seem to be instrumental in nature.

Posted by j.lee | October 24, 2008 3:21 PM

haha, Supertramp were first, dean.

Posted by mackro mackro | October 24, 2008 6:58 PM

After See You on the Other Side, Mercury Rev have become progressively more boring and maudlin. Haven't heard the new one yet, but I'm not optimistic. I say this as one of the world's foremost fans of Yerself Is Steam and Boces.

Posted by segal | October 25, 2008 1:22 PM

Hello! The band that recorded "Boces" no longer exists. You is-a pretty much talking apples & oranges here.

Posted by Keekee | October 27, 2008 9:50 AM

I know. I'm just mourning the passing of the best Mercury Rev phase and letting you know my biases.

Posted by segal | October 27, 2008 10:57 AM

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