Seven albums in, and Mercury Rev are again on the move. Snowflake Midnight finds New Yorks veteran sonic explorers downing the tools that resulted in 2005s disappointing The Secret Migration and discovering a whole new, largely electronic palette: computers and synthesisers, sequencers and vocoders. Which isnt to say the Rev have entirely abandoned their familiar brand of heady, cosmic Americana: as "Snowflake in a Hot World" gusts into life on Jonathon Donohues optimistic, star-gazing croon, its clear that the themes that have long driven this band--nature and mysticism, magic and dreams--remain intact. Now, though, electronics are woven deep in their design. Often it's successful--take the gorgeous "Runaway Raindrop", shimmering electronic minimalism that recalls electronic Krautrock godheads Cluster. Elsewhere, somewhat meandering: see the overblown, seven-minute "Dream of Young Girl As a Flower", which veers unsteadily between serene drift and pounding electronica like Donohue and Grasshopper are still trying to master the instruction manual. But while it might not be a reinvention quite as stark as their panoramic, career-defining 1998 album Deserter's Songs, evolution is preferable to inertia, and seven albums in Mercury Rev are still mutating, following their muse like leaves tossed on the wind. --Louis Pattison
It hardly seems possible that Mercury Rev have been around for the best part of two decades. Even more unlikely that they are still together at all given the constant turmoil and changes of personnel, but here they are, after a four-year silence (their soundtrack for 2006's Bye Bye Blackbird notwithstanding) with their seventh studio album.
A word of warning just to start with: whatever you do, don't, just DON'T, go to the band's website and risk bumping into their seriously off-putting description of their new nine-track offering as ''bursting with patterns and mandala-like forms! blown apart by their own majestic desire to share themselves, spirals of new momentum inter-twingling with the vastness of limitless new creation!''. Or, they could just have said ''Here are nine new, oh, what's the word! songs!''.
Yet for all the self-mythologising and, by the sounds of it, self-diagnosing going on, Snowflake Midnight is, happily, what you'd expect from a slightly older, clearly more mature and possibly even a touch more contented Mercury Rev. It's still meltingly infectious, sparkle-dusted dream pop but noticeably less airy, its centre of gravity a touch lower, its wide-eyed vision dulled at the edges.
So prime yourself for a lapse into maudlin resignation from time to time, as in the crystalline Snowflake In A Hot World, or momentary refuge in the ambient awesomeness of October Sunshine, unquestionably the album's stand-out track.
Immediately noticeable is the retro (and really rather agreeable) emphasis on electronics. The soundscapes encountered here are large and luminous, dotted with manufactured and trademark real details and all underpinned by that signature sense of nostalgic yearning. Occasionally, such eclecticism throws up slightly disturbing (and surely unintended) allusions, as in the case of Dream Of A Young Girl As A Flower, which unsettlingly sounds like early Genesis crossed with Underworld. That can't be good.
But tracks such as the serialist-leaning Runaway Raindrop with its vast cinematic sprawl, the soaring, spiralling spectacular that is Sense On Fire, and the blissful hymnal Faraway From Cars more than make amends and contribute magnificently to Mercury Rev's finest offering since 1998's Deserter's Songs. --Michael Quinn
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