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Mercury Rev: Snowflake Midnight


Mercury Rev

Album: Snowflake Midnight
Label: Yep Roc

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Having long ago shaken most of the Flaming Lips comparisons, Mercury Rev's back-to-back salvo of Deserter's Songs (1998) and All Is Dream (2001) remains an impeccable A-side/B-side demonstration of how to turn a grandiose studio vision into something beautiful, then slightly harrowing. But 2005's The Secret Migration lost the grandeur amid weightless burbling, and the new Snowflake Midnight integrates all kinds of gimmickry good for press releases: Random-note generators and avant-garde patches punctuate the songs. The best is "People Are So Unpredictable," in which Jonathan Donahue's faux-naïve worldview is given grit by fierce backing: As he sings the title, pummeling drums accentuate it. That sense of drama is missing from the rest of the disc, which indulges in fussed-over backgrounds full of glitchy adornments, similarly admirable in their complex arrangements, but absolutely weightless. (An ill-advised spoken-word segment on "Runaway Raindrop" doesn't help, either.) At its best, Mercury Rev is secretly an Americana band (see Levon Helm and Garth Hudson's appearances on Deserter's Songs), tricking out solid songs with studio know-how; their collapse into catchall experimentation is brave, but ultimately not the best route.