Review Summary: With David Baker's departure, Jonathan Donahue becomes a key figure of the band.
... And at first it's not so noticeable. As a matter of fact there are some clear similarities between the album opener "Empire State (Son House in Excelsis)" and "Boces'" opener "Meth of a Rockette's kick". both are starting with weird but soothing melodies which get louder and louder until the overwhelming Saxophones and trumpets brake in backed up with heavily distorted guitars which somehow always seem to be a bit to low in the mix. But what can you do" It's best just to relax and just go with it. You might find it very enjoyable.
Second song is a probably the most straightforward rock song the band has ever done. John Bohnam-ish drums are combined with Donahue's more narrating than singing vocals and again some distorted, quiteish guitars. "Sudden Ray Of Hope" also has it's older brother on Boces, and it is "Downs Are Feminine Baloons" but in that song something strange happens. A single snare beat. It's like that single snare beat kicked David Baker's ass out of the band and now the rest of the guys start doing what they want. A phenomenal instrumental jam that builds and reaches it's highpoint with trumpet lines Getting louder and louder until the song comes down to the riff from the beginning and easily slips into a next song.
"Everlasting Arm" is a peaceful ballad. "Up where there's an Everlasting Arm/ sends us out alone/ moves us out of harm/Ever-reaching always sweeping" Can it get more calming and relaxing than that" Hardly I'd say.
The centerpiece of the album is definitely "Racing the Tide" in which Donahue whispers "I'm so close, I'm almost inside" before Grasshopper comes in whit one of the most beautiful guitar solos he's ever done.
And suddenly a riff from "Racing a Tide" slips into a magical jazzy land of "Close encounters of the third grade" with female vocals similar to those on Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig In The Sky" only with much faster and quirky background.
"A Kiss From an Old flame" and "Peaceful Night" are in same spirit as "Everlasting Arm" was. They also feature some interesting touches such as Hawaiian xylophone in the first song and Donahue's almost crying vocals in the second one.
This album is considered as a transition from a noise/pop of "Yerself is Steam" and "Boces" to "Deserter's Songs" and later albums in which Dave Fridmann shows how brilliant is he at string arranging. One more important thing about this album is that it doesn't stop between song. For most of it's parts it is a peaceful journey trough the wonderland that Mercury Rev lives in.