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What I’m listening to this week: Mercury Rev

June 7, 2009

Snowflake Midnight – 2008

In my second foray into Mercury Rev‘s collection, I listened to their latest release, Snowflake Midnight.  On first impressions, it’s a stark contrast from Deserter’s Songs by virtue of the fact that it is much more firmly entrenched in the experimental side of psychedelic dream pop.

The first track, “Snowflake in a Hot World” drives with heavy bass and drum beats while Jonathan Donahue sings passionately about the uniqueness of a snowflake, leaving it up to the listener to decide if it’s a metaphor or an ode to nature.  “Butterflys Wing” sounds a lot like a Flaming Lips song musically (something discussed in my initial MR blog) with its reverberating keyboards and textured layers, but it’s more optimistic and romantic than many Lips songs.  These songs flow into “Senses On Fire” which is definitely one of the more experimental tracks, finding distorted vocals repeating the title over and over, and as the song continues, the urgency and glory grow, creating one of the most joyous moments on the album.

If Snowflake Midnight does get a little too heart-on-sleeve, it’s on “People Are So Unpredictable”, which includes the lyrics, “You open yourself like a curious flower” and “Life is uncertain/And people are so unpredictable”.  It’s six and a half minutes long and doesn’t provide the same kind of moment that “Senses On Fire” does in 3:30.  “October Sunshine” brings the album back to its theme of nature in a wall of beautiful synth-sound that evokes 1970s film beauty shots.  “Runaway Raindrop” dirties up that scene a bit with dramatic synths, a gnarled bass line, and slightly less fragile vocals.

Another epic experiment on Snowflake Midnight is “Dream Of A Young Girl As A Flower”, in which practically the whole kitchen sink is thrown, everything from the most tender of synth strings, to “Yoshimi”-style disturbing other-worldy noise.  It succeeds, at the very least, in being a fascinating listen.  The hand-clap laden “Faraway From Cars” is delicate and emotional, but not truly a standout, and the album closer “A Squirrel And I (Holding On…And Then Letting Go)”, continues down that path and finds the album ending on a very quiet note.

Overall, Snowflake Midnight feels a little like a not quite fully realized dream; it’s lovely in some parts, but without the necessary drama to be continuously compelling.  It doesn’t match up to the brilliance of Deserter’s Songs, yet is still worth indulging in just because Mercury Rev is such a great band.

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