Fricke's Picks: The Cosmic Mercury Rev - Rolling Stone
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Fricke’s Picks: The Cosmic Mercury Rev

“Ready or not, here I come,” singer Jonathan Donahue declares in “Senses on Fire” on Mercury Rev’s new album, Snowflake Midnight (Yep Roc) — in a machinelike croon so obscured by dirty, rubbery electronics that it’s hard to tell where “here” is. For this upstate New York band, that is normal operating weirdness. Since the majestic chaos of their 1991 debut, Yerself Is Steam, Mercury Rev have specialized in a constantly mutating psychedelia that is the opposite of George Harrison’s notion in his 1968 Beatles B side “The Inner Light”: “Arrive without traveling.” For the Rev, the trip is all; destination is anti-climactic. But even compared with the violent sprawl of 1993’s Boces, the iridescent-prairie music of 1998’s Deserter’s Songs and the opiate luxury of 2001’s All Is Dream, Snowflake Midnight is an odd, hard turn: into Seventies German electronica and the squishy, metronome pulse of house music. The tweets and glimmer of “Butterfly’s Wing” recall the underwater-sonar music of Tangerine Dream. When guitarist Grasshopper fires up his air-raid loops in the gulping-synth charge of “Senses on Fire,” it’s like shooting for Aldeberan via Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn.” But there is depth and light, too, in the overlapping voices of “Runaway Raindrop,” like the 1966 Beach Boys in meditation with Popol Vuh, and the suitelike scoring of “Dream of a Young Girl as a Flower” (the dancing-oboes effect in the intro, the 1970 Pink Floyd breakout of galactic-warfare feedback). The song titles suggest arrested innocence, but this is the rapture of veteran explorers. “There’s no bliss like home,” Donahue insists amid the elephant-groan guitar and alpinelike bells in “People Are So Unpredictable.” There’s even more along the way — and on Strange Attractor, a companion set of instrumentals (available as a free download from the band’s Website) with accurate, pictorial titles like “Taken Up Into Clouds, Changed and Rained Down.”

[From Issue 1063 — October 16, 2008]


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