Review Summary: The highlight of the band's discography, Mercury Rev collect the notes they had worked with, thrown out most of them, and what is left is euphoric and very catchy dream pop.
While the bands come from different backgrounds and appeal to different audiences, there is no use in denying the strange connection between Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips
. Both bands have two different eras of recording, the earlier stage reserved for hard rocking and a heavier sound, while in the latter of their careers both eased into more pop based songwriting and music making. The similarities run so deep as even former Rev member Johnathan Donahue became the guitarist for the Flaming Lips on In a Priest Driven Ambulance
. This of course was only a stint, and soon enough he was back with the old group. Weather you want to say the career paths, Deserter's Songs
for Mercury Rev is what Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
is to the Lips, the second in a series of lighter sounding records, and considered by many to be the band's best.
Of course, bands simply do not change genres overnight, and it took the group many years to reach the creative peak they display on Deserter's Songs
. This is their poppiest album, but it took a long road to reach this point. In the past, the band had a more apathetic view toward music, not bothering to write up set lists for live shows and in some cases, not finishing songs. After a brief fallout, the band has gathered back up from the ashes of disinterest, and with the help of some lovely string arrangements have put themselves back on the map, and in a big way.
It is not only the strings that make the key point for the band, but the work each member put into this effort, especially from those not used to being in the band. It was quick work for new drummer Jeff Mercel, but like it would be difficult as Mercury Rev are not highlighted by their percussion section. The attention is instead trusted upon their front line instruments, and in the form of additional new member, keyboardist Adam Snyder. Coming into this new band situation and really quickly jumping to the role of leader and origin of much of the noise on this record must have been quite the experience; but it is one that was well played by Snyder, who fit in with the band's new sound. Of course these are only whats new with the band, and the standstills within the core of the group are what accept the change and keep it running. The old standstill is of course main guitarist and songwriter, Johnathan Donahue. Even with the new times he remains the band's leader and guides them through this new age.
One refreshing aspect of this record is the newly placed emphasis on lyrics. Though not normally picked out of the crowd for the writing talents of Donahue or the band, this turn sees that element definitely improved. The words written are not used for personal attacks or to mainly vent or express feelings; instead they are used in vignettes, each one spaced out throughout the work and a joy to listen to. Why on one disc you can listen to stories of being on the Hudson Line (Hudson Line
), people who for a living dig holes ("Holes
"), and about being on sea ("Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp
"). Alright so the stories aren't exactly super extravagant, but they are certainly well written and enjoyable to listen to. Of course, this wouldn't be true if not for the members of the group honing their music talents together to set the scene for the stories to play out on.
The mood and feel are another highlight from this record. Like the band has now been conditioned to feature, they put a dreamy mood in their stuff, aided by the chamber of instruments they utilize to make the music. On the outro of the opening track, Holes
, the end of the tune is accompanied by Sean Mackowiak's strongly played clarinet. The clarinet work is only one of the many elements that lead to a very dreamy feel. Taking into consideration how the mood plays off the lyrics, it would seem fitting that Mercury Rev make music that is easy to get stories across and over, and indeed they do. With these stories, there needs to be a voice to pilot the ship, and Donahue remains in this role, using his high but not too high vocals to guide the plane. While this voice may come across as annoying to some, others will see it does the job just fine.
So there you have it, the new age of Mercury Rev is marked by cute storytelling, a free and whimsical mood, and is anchored down by new members as well as old ones. Though this lineup would change for their next record, All is Dream
for the time being the band must have felt as complete as ever, creating this snapshot that is well worth listening to.