Friday, July 22, 2011

FDF Volume 3 Issue 233: Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs

By: March

Album – Deserter's Songs
Artist – Mercury Rev
Key Players - Adam Snyder – B3, Mellotron, Wurlitzer. Suzanne Thorpe – flute. Dave Fridmann – piano,bass, mellotron, backing vocals. Jimy Chambers – clavinet, harpsichord, drums. Sean “Grasshopper” Mackiowiak – guitar reels, woodwinds. Jonathan Donahue – vocals, acoustic guitar, chamberlin strings.
Produced By - Dave Fridmann, Jonathan Donahue

Release Date – September 29, 1998

What caused me to blow off the dust? I've been a casual fan of the band, but the recent release of the this same record as an “Instrumental Edition” reminded me it had been some time since I'd listened to the band.

Overview – This is the fourth studio album from Buffalo, New York band Mercury Rev. The band, who combined rock with variations of “Art Rock, Dream Pop” and “Chamber Pop” to name but a few quietly made records and this album was a surprise “hit” for the band. Made on their own terms with a plan to disband soon after the UK Press voted it album if the year in 1998. The band continues to make records and perform live. The band has still not charted a record in the US but have cracked the top 20 in the UK.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - The band starts off the record with “Holes”. A wonderful lush sound scape starts before the vocals start. Donahue has a particular sound to his voice, maybe not that technical, but perfect for the band/sound. The band comes in and the piano takes a bit more a dominant role with the strings and percussive instruments aiding in the sound. Chambers comes in on the drums before a theramin solo begins, yep..a theramin solo (it also be a bowed saw solo?). The song comes back around for another verse. It is a pretty, quiet, but at the same time, full sounding opener. Matt Jordan offers a terrific flugelhorn portion as well. “Tonite It Shows” opens like a movement from a Broadway show. Harp plucking and a small string section compliment the vocals. The band is not in a hurry musically or lyrically. The songs are complex and allow you to get lost in them. The percussive fills, the strings are all delicate yet punctuate when needed. The acoustic guitars remain strong as “Endlessly”begins. The band uses some pretty sounding female vocals to start off the track before the progression of the song gets started. To this point there is no clear cut musical whiz in the crew. Each holds a key to the bands sound and no one person seems eager to really take off or show off. It could be a quiet piano fill, a short burst on the guitar. The bass is simple plucked notes that might tandem with a flute section. “I Collect Coins” is the shortest track on the disc running under 1 minute and 30 seconds. It sounds a bit like an off key piano working to get started. More a transitional piece as there are no vocals. Levon Helm of “The Band” plays drums on the next track, “Opus 40”. You don't hear him at the start as there is some B3 organ and strings that start with Donahue singing. The song picks up the pace and for the first time on the record it feels like the band will “take off” and they do, well for them, come the end of the first verse. There is a nice B3 “solo” after the verses and you get touches of other brass instruments to fill out the sound. A soaring track from the band that comes at the right point of the record. There is almost a false ending at about the 3:50 mark as the female vocals come in with some whistling as the band starts to take things down to single notes and lush tones as it fades even more. The saxophone at the start of “Hudson Line” is provided by Garth Hudson (The Band). The lead vocals are taken over by Mackiowiak. His vocals are strong and seem a bit more “powerful” than Donahue. He as a little bit of a Trey Anastaio (Phish) sound vocally to me personally. The drums keep this track moving forward, but they are not pounding, allowing for set ups fro the B3 to ring out. Hudson comes back on for another run on the sax portion. A very strong track throughout. “The Happy End (The Drunk Room)” is a bit of cluster at the start. A piano line is erratic and played over and over as strings sing over the piano line. This repeats for a over a minute of the track before the strings get a little more complex and try to push the song forward. This is another short track that holds that odd feeling, then false ends, then wraps up with more hammering on a piano. Another transitional track. The lone song that could be a “hit” or even radio single in the US comes via “Goddess on a Hiway”. A pretty song with nice piano intro and a nice walking bass line from Fridmann. Fans of the Flaming Lips will feel right at home (Fridmann has worked production with the band). A song I'd have anyone listen to first and foremost from the band from this record. The vocals might sound a little odd, but like most cases they fit the mix and vibe of the band so well. For me personally this is the best song on the record. “The Funny Bird” has another bigger, full, intro that lays back quickly. The vocals are heavily laden with effects. It is a unique twist, but sometimes feels like they could have done better with just a reverb or delay. It causes you to focus on it so much but the band is quick to pull your attention to them and for really the first time the whole band crashes down for a few bars. It rolls back to the early vibe, but we get the explosion again which is so worth it. A big drum, bass and guitar interlude that is really strong, so strong you get it again! “Pick Up If You're There” is a tandem of keyboard of instruments at the start establishing a haunting vibe. The strings and the sounds of a scratchy record playing only continue to set the mood. The bowed saw (or theramin) is an interesting touch and the song seems to start losing steam as it heads to completion. There is a hushed spoken portion that makes this song not totally instrumental, but it really is. “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” is a fun bouncing track. The band seems to open up a lot more on this and get loose. It is a nice change for the band who you can almost see and hear smiling as they play this tune. Fridmann has a nice bass line higher up in the mix as Donahue and Grasshopper fire off one another on guitars, a very fun and strong album closer...or so you'd think there is an instrumental track after this running about 2:30 in length. Largely forgettable.

Where are they now? - As noted the band is still active. An instrumental re-issue of this very record was released in May of 2011.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) – I've never seen the band live.

FDF Overall Take – This is a late in the evening type record for people that might be willing to sit for a bit of a musical challenge. There are not a ton of big huge hooks, or even hummable lines for that matter, but it is so intricate, delicate you accept what might seem as a challenge to listen to. It strikes me as odd the band are from New York, they just seem to feel like a band from Europe.

Official site click here

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!

Goddess On A Hiway


Opus 40 Official Video

Goddess on a Hiway from Jools Holland

Holes – Live from Jools Holland (not the best quality)

You can still find the album, buy it


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