Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mercury Rev: Deserter's Songs

What started as a soundtrack project for a friend's film has evolved into a band whose albums are soundtracks for acid flashbacks. Mercury Rev and its guitarist, Grasshopper, will forever lurk on the cusp of national prominence, after almost achieving it with the song "Young Man's Stride" from 1995's See You On The Other Side. America, however, isn't ready for a psychedelic resurgence, unless the music in question involves songs about women who eat name-brand petroleum jelly and dye their hair with citrus fruit. Mercury Rev's spin on psychedelic music owes as much to Martin Denny's exotica as it does to The 13th Floor Elevators or The Teardrop Explodes. Instead of channeling the exotic sounds of Hawaii or the Cayman Islands, though, the band channels the way-out sounds of inner and outer space. The tone of Deserter's Songs is set with the melancholy opener "Holes," a song that sounds sentimental until you actually pay attention to the absurdist lyrics. From there, the album doesn't pick up much in tone, but it's thoroughly, hauntingly beautiful, if a bit familiar. Suzanne Thorpe's flute hook on "Endlessly" smacks of the Christmas carol "Silent Night," while the chorus of "Opus 40" brings to mind that of The Beatles' "Golden Slumbers." If the members are consciously cribbing (and they're too savvy not to be doing so), they're at least picking good source material. It may have been a desire for creative expansion that led Grasshopper to create a solo album, but that's not readily apparent when you compare the two albums. On his own (or at least with only sporadic appearances by his bandmates), Grasshopper spins the same sort of graceful noise as he does with Mercury Rev. The only noticeable difference is that The Orbit Of Eternal Grace, while by no means thin, is not as full and lush as Deserter's Songs, and it's a bit more upbeat. Much of the album sounds like the recording device itself was on nitrous oxide. Sounds pulsate and repeat in waves, particularly on the hypnotic "Silver Balloons." On the tracks with Thorpe, her flute acts as a lifeline that keeps the quiet melodies afloat. In contrast to the easy subtlety of the rest of the album, the more aggressive "O-Ring (Baby Talk)" and "Univac Bug Track" are dizzying, overwhelming wake-up calls to make sure you're paying attention. Both albums are ecstatic rocket ships to otherworldly sounds and ideas; don't let their near-concurrent release distract you from seeking out either. They're both worth it.

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