on 3 September 2000
"What was all that about?"was my first reaction when I heard this album, I couldn't believe how hyped it was.But as experience has taught me before the best albums are the ones you initially hate so I listened a few more times still not really getting it,but on the umpteenth listen I started to notice it's charms no longer was the lead singers voice annoying and with each subsequent listen it get's better and better and I even like the odd incidental tracks which litter the album, this now ranks alongside OK computer and Moon Safari as one of my favourite albums.It also has the strangest hidden track i've ever heard at the end and I love that too.Play this one full blast with the window open and look at the bewildered faces on people walking past.
on 7 February 2000
This is an album that you hear and say "they can't be serious, can they?" as you listen to the singer's strangely cartoon like voice and impossibly twee mellotrons and ultra high strings. It's only when you listen to the complex orchestrations that you begin to realise this band is indeed serious. "Deserters Songs" sounds like candy but tastes like something darker, giving us glimpses of an american landscape full of despair, humour and hope. It's an emotional ride, and has the feeling of albums like OK Computer and Achtung Baby, that drift along and leave hundreds of layers of meaning, saying far more than they suggest but never appearing to be pretentiously profound. It even ends with a good ol' downhome footbanger in Delta Blues Stomp, that lifts the spirit and leaves you with a reflective, exciting and technically superb album.
on 24 April 2008
Mercury Rev's 1998 album was undoubtably a turning point, a massively influencial re-envisioning of the pop-rock form that inspired countless imitators. Marginally pre-dating The Flaming Lips' equally stunning The Soft Bulletin by about one year, in my view it began a protracted period of American dominance in indie rock (Radiohead excepting) that remains a decade later. Probably the album for which the term psych rock was invented, Deserter's Songs eschewed the orthodoxy of the period for lush orchestrations, faux-naive vocals, lullaby-like melodies, and kaleidoscopic harmonies. Unlike their British counterparts, their music favoured awe-struck wonder and whistful romanticism over gloom-laden paranoia or the back-to-basics approach of the (slightly later) post-punk revival. Psychedelic without being prog, but too weirdly off-beat to be mainstream, Deserter's Songs had a then unfashionably wide-screen grandeur that enabled the alt-rock scene to once again embrace a broader sonic pallet. Replete with horns, piano, violins and bowed saw the album has influenced countless acts from The Earlies and Animal Collective to Midlake and Grandaddy. A majestic, wide-eyed classic.
on 4 March 2000
Few albums have ever left you wrapped in emotion all the way through. Whether you listen to the classically-haunting "Holes", the gospel parody "Opus 40", or the amazingly infectious "Goddess on a Hiway", the listener is stuck for the entire 45 minutes. After the drum-drenched upbeat eccentricity of "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp", the listener really doesn't know whether to feel hysterically happy or insanely depressed. This album is one of the most beautiful LPs ever written, if only for the permanent enigma of why it was written. In a few words, "Deserter's Songs" is freeze-dried emotion.
on 25 March 2014
When Mercury Rev first arrived and blew my head clean off with the astounding brilliance of Yerself Is Steam, I believed they could never again produce such a magnificent piece of work. It's darn good to be wrong, although a different beast, Deserters Songs is just as hauntingly majestic. The majority of the songs are filled with a subtle strangeness, an other worldliness, Jarvis Cocker likened the feel of the album to the way those old fairy tale movies get you, I agree, a happy sadness if you will. It's an emotional journey, often leaving me glassy eyed but clueless as to why. This is beyond psychedelia, folk rock, pop, whatever, it is truly unique genius despite hearing umpteen influences/references throughout. Deserters Songs is one of those stand alone albums that defies genre and 'just is', it puts you in a celebratory melancholic state in a similar way to Bowie's 'Hunky Dory' or DJ Shadow's 'Entroducing'. Lyrically and thematically diverse, it keeps giving, the more you listen, the more you discover. Not just a musical triumph, Johnathan Donahue's gorgeous vocal delivery varying between straight up vocals, crooning and Shari Lewis doing Lamb Chop.
Moving, haunting, beautiful, timeless and epic, this is the kind of album that will make you feel upset for not having discovered it sooner, you will feel like you've wasted time.
on 13 December 2007
It can suit any mood, any time of day, any age group, etc. This really is one of best records of the past 20 years. No doubt about it. There's an almost classic or timeless feel to it. As soon as you hear it you can tell it's quality and in places it's hard to tell when the recording was actually made, which to me is a sign of a great piece of music. Very hard to describe, however, the production on this is stunning.
The reason I'm writing this review? Because I've lost my copy and I'm looking to purchase another one, which must in itself say something.
With the presence on a couple of tracks of The Band's Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, and a distinct Americana feel to it, this is a key '90s album, and almost unique in the spell it casts if you're in the mood for it. I seem always to play it in the evening by candlelight. It's good for what ails you.
You're going to either buy into Jonathan Donahue's fey little-boy vocals or not, but they are all of a piece with songs that flirt with tweeness but come out fighting too. His singing grows on you, like soft moss, and the eclectic choice of instruments throughout is heartening and a rare pleasure.
Holes is a compelling opening track, but the song which startles immediately is Goddess on a Hiway, with its catchy verse leading into powerful chorus:
An' I know it ain't gonna last
An' I know it ain't gonna last
Other singers have their moments too, including Amy Helm, Marie Spinosa, and Mary Gavazzi Fridmann, and Joel Eckhouse plays a mean bowed saw.
The Funny Bird is another highlight, as is The Happy End - but really this 1998 album is like a suite of songs with a mood and atmosphere as beguiling as it is hypnotic.
I don't listen to it all that often, but when I do - every few months - it's like visiting an old and trusted friend, who places a calming hand on my head and lulls me to a mildly exotic, ancient place of calm and inevitable peace. In its way it is quite beautiful.
on 28 February 2007
Arrived hear via The Flaming Lips & now I don't wish to desert this box of delights for some time....maybe it's because i'm working retrospectively ,as many music lovers tend to do & following the theme of finding an artist~song~sound~look~hook that stimulates & I've found Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs has everything I could wish for...I must admit on the first time of playing the album I was dissapointed,I had just been playing The Lips Yoshimi & how do you follow that?...By playing this album over & over . It has certainly broadened my musical taste as Johnathan Donahue is gifted at finding a beautiful line,taking control & expanding it into something wonderful.Deserter's Songs takes you on a musical journey thro' folk pop softrock jazz blues classical to avant garde.If you are reading this then you are interested in Mercury Rev,invest in the album,play it over & over & enjoy it as one of the most beautiful & complete albums ever produced.Tell me what you think about the trax Holes & Endlessly.I believe Deserter's Songs is exceptional ,so much so,I bought it twice.
on 5 October 1999
This is possibly the most important band of the decade and thensome, they come from New York and surrounding areas. They began in a front room playing guitars to a wild life program about rivers, I know you cant believe it either but its true. They started with David Fridmann mostly on vocals with Jonathan Donahue on backup vocals Dave brought the more phycadelic side of Mercury Rev out while Jonathan aimed for a more commercial angle. Dave soon departed and Jonathan took over and they have gone from obscurity to absolute geniuses. I have to say it I personally think this is the best album of 1998/1999. Deserter's Songs is the predecessor of 'See You On The Other Side' this is the most refreshing album you will hear, Jonathan is a lyrical master with such words as 'Like a wave along the coast I feel the highs and the lows'. The opening song for the album is 'Holes' which shows Jonathan is in the right place and able to pull of playing guitar as well as singing. Singles of this album are 'Goddess on a Hiway, Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp and Opus 40'. All you need to know is this is one of the most important albums of all time, if this was on a scoring system they would get 20 out of 10. This band deserves your attention I rest my case.
on 9 November 1999
A haunting collection of music.
Takes your mind on a laid back trip through a wonderfully textured sonic landscape. From the opener "Holes" through to the "post last track noise" this album woos with brilliantly layered sounds, including some of the best mellotron playing I've heard in a long time.
Only one gripe. The final track - "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp" -, though still a good track, with its upbeat tempo just doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the album. It's not written by the same member of the band as the rest of the material, so that's to be expected. Just seems like an odd inclusion. Maybe to wake you up after drifting along to the rest of the album?
Why is it that bands who have ALMOST hit rock bottom with excesses of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll , but recovered, seem to be capable of producing quality in their work which was not so apparent in previous offerings?