Further adventures from a small bright planet.
Mr Donahue and cohorts create an extraordinarily lush and vivid
soundworld for us with their new release 'Snowflake Midnight'.
These nine sumptuous tracks are almost overwhelming in their
multilayered, scintillating, numinous complexity.
Structurally and melodically epic in scope, the densely constructed
thematic and rhythmic waves at times threaten to capsize the craft.
I am wholly willing to drown, however, in music of this imaginative
impetus, originality and quality.
Opening track 'Snowflake In A Hot World' drives along at a furious pace.
Piano, percussion and hard edged guitar supporting the disembodied high floating vocal.
'Butterfly's Wing' is a curiously lilting patchwork quilt of beatbox, crashing keyboard chords
and hauntingly disembodied childrens' voices. A magic garden of sound.
'Sense On Fire', with its slowly building rhythmic pulse and cataclysmic resolution
is a simple and single-minded idea followed through with uncompromising clarity of vision.
'People Are So Unpredictable' takes us into almost ambient territory with its'
delicate tapestry of shifting synth chords. All ice and fire.
The brief instrumental 'October Sunshine' is simply sublime.
'Runnaway Raindrop', 'Faraway From Cars' (with its' ecstatic handclapping) and the quirky
'A Squirrel and I ( Holding On....and Then Letting Go )' all engage our attention, imagination
The glorious 'Dream Of A young Girl As A Flower' is, however, the blooming heart of
this truly wonderful album. An epic composition in every sense. So many ideas jostling
for attention without ever losing focus or coherence for a moment.
Challenging. Uplifting. Thrilling. A Quite Magnificent Achievement.
on 19 November 2008
Wow, some people have given this 5 stars! Well, let me say; I'm quite pleased about that, though I won't be joining them. The crux of the matter is that for me, this record is far too ambient.
You have to applaud the band's ambition - they've left their orchestral epic period behind, and started exploring new territory; this time it's electronic and techno sounds - unfortunately though, I don't find this album stimulating in any way. It sounds very "pieced together", very inorganic, and it lacks the elements of previous records that I liked. I know The Secret Migration" got a panning by and large, but that one actually became my favourite Mercury Rev album - [hear me out...] it was a masterpiece in songwriting; damn near every tune invites you to sing along. On Snowflake Midnight, any time you think you hear a part that you can one day see yourself singing along to, the music pauses... and then changes completely - usually into non-descript ambience, and then holds that idea for... well, way too long. One thing you can say for it though: it sure is unpredictable.
Upon hearing this record I was the first to say that you can never fully appreciate a Mercury Rev album on the first listen (I hated The Secret Migration at first), but this one hasn't grown on me, and so I've decided my current judgement is the one I'm going to enter for posterity.
Mercury Rev have been around long enough to have acquired a devoted and faithful following which appears to be more strongly rooted in the UK than their native US. Despite this,they have never broken through into Indie music's premier league in terms of popularity or music sales.
For the uninitiated,the Revs are a cosmic blend of Flaming Lips and 70's rockers Steely Dan. Offering quite spacey, complex works rather than instantly accessible rock tracks.
Snowflake Midnight offers more of the same with the aforementioned artistes supplemented at times by early dreamy Pink Floyd !
Sharp production really gives the instrumentals and vocals real clarity and the tracks stack up fine with no real bummers to spoil the end product. Unfortunately no real classics stand out either so the whole package just sounds OK-ish.
Not a bad album by any means but not a belter which will draw in a new legion of admirers methinks.
on 26 September 2008
`Snowflake Midnight` is a departure from previous Mercury Rev records in that it is almost entirely dominated by electronics and glacial synths. A digital wonderland as sonically rich as Flaming Lips' `Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots`, Mercury Rev's latest sees them trying to graft their faux-naive nature imagery onto dazzling artificial production. Shifting and morphing with the dynamism of a symphony, Dave Fridmann's Bladerunner soundscapes are so grand they often dwarf the songs. If, like me, in `glacial' you read `emotionally chilly' this is not the record for you. No-one can suggest that Snowflake Midnight is understated; others will suggest that they have severely over-egged the pudding.
Like `Secret Migration`, Snowflake is guilty of such a glassy, glossy sheen that the individual elements are hard to pin down. Technically dazzling but somehow remote, it soars up and down, sucking the listener in and spitting them out, and at the end you're not quite sure where you've been or why. While the album is at times discordant and cacophonous, like their previous album the slick polish suggests a more commercial direction. Donahue doesn't sound nearly as subversive, or unsettlingly narcotic, as on earlier releases, but the wide-eyed fairytale conceit remains.
`Snowflake Midnight' begins with a strong trio of tracks which retain an infectious pop sensibility despite some rather overloaded production. `Snowflake in a Hot World' is typical Mercury Rev whimsy: its allegorical conceit that no two snowflakes, like humans, are alike, frankly a little trite: "Don't let them get to you, don't let them tell you you're all the same". Beginning with shimmering electronics and stabs of synthesized bass, it builds into a veritable maelstrom of digital effects. At first the electronic detailing - the pro-tooled clicks, whirls and whooshes - create a meaningful fission with Jonathan Donahue's rather facile nature imagery in ways that it fails to do later in the album. The fluttering `Butterfly Wings', for instance, is a blissful meld of the natural and the artificial. But as much as I want to share Donahue's enthusiasm for this natural imagery I mostly find his posturing too contrived and a touch prosaic, despite the hyper-vivid sonic conceit of the music. By contrast, the exhilarating neo-rave of `Senses On Fire' recalls Deserter's Songs` `Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp' - all Chemical Brothers bombast and rushes of sonic bedlam.
After track three the album grows sillier as it grows in scale and ambition, becoming more portentous with each passing track. I feel that Mercury Rev have rather lost their lightness of touch at a time when contemporaries such as Radiohead have found theirs. `People Are So Unpredictable', with its Wizard of Oz refrain "There's No Place Like Home", is particularly guilty of overdramatic posturing, with enormous anti-climaxes and lost-at-sea `quiet bits' that seem better suited to incidental music. I could imagine the thunderous drums and doom-mongering choirs soundtracking some Oz derivative like `Labyrinth' - think David Bowie's big-haired glam-rocking baddie trying to be really scary to Jennifer Connolley. While such conceptual silliness is impossible to take seriously, `October Sunshine' is a couple of minutes of very serviceable Vangelis-esque ambience.
`Runaway Raindrop' starts with some `Felt Mountain' type atmospherics before being interrupted by spectacularly ugly acid-house basslines and then collapsing into a spoken-word near rap by Donahue. "A Wolf Never Waits," Donahue warns in a song that is equal parts The Fifth Element and Underworld. Sometimes you get the feeling Donahue and Fridmann have been given license to indulge their worst individual excesses unchecked and are not really singing from the same songsheet: Donahue with his twee, over-earnest lyrical concerns, and Fridmann with his "this one goes to 11' ratcheting up of the special effects. `Dream Of A Young Girl as A Flower' is also suspect, frequently disintegrating into meaningful pauses but entirely lacking the very gravitas it rather desperately strives for. However, its hyper-active spasms of electronic noise and quasi-drum and bass freak outs are interrupted by a lovely stately piano moment with Donahue intoning "You're the one everyone leans on, you're the one who can't lose control". This brief moment of lucidity is so suddenly, unexpectedly moving that you wonder what a less-is-more approach to `Snowflake Midnight' could have yielded.
For all the emoting and thundering earnestness, Snowflake is sometimes enveloping, sometimes an impenetratable mess. It is like 100th Window-era Massive Attack remixed by Sigur Ros, Xiu Xiu and Trent Reznor. `Far out' at times, yes, but too far out for anyone to care. Replete with squalls of big angry synths howling and raging as if scoring some unseen drama, the result is often opque: more style than substance. There are some lovely moments, granted, but like a CGI-saturated movie it suggests a band hiding a paucity of ideas with an arsenal of special effects. While `A squirrel and I' - electronic chamber pop bedecked with synthesised sax squeals - is much better than any song with that title and those lyrics deserves to be, it is almost impossible to take seriously. If Flaming Lips could get away with writing songs about Japanese girls fighting giant pink robots then `Snowflake Midnight' must be missing some key ingredients. Too sonically busy, but never dull, Snowflake's ultimate drawback is that it seems like a pose, an affectation, and thus emotionally distant and rather silly.
First published at The Line of Best Fit
on 24 October 2008
The negative reviews elsewhere strike me as misguided. This album unfolds like a book, taking you through textures and sounds. The usual elliptical lyrics drop in and out and it manages the odd echo of the previous trio of their albums without ever sounding like a copy. It's certainly demanding and doesn't lend itself easily to being background music. But it does have the capacity to keep surprising you. I don't know how many times I'd been through it before the bizarre drumming and the strange elements that make up Dream of a Young Girl as a Flower' finally struck me. That track is like an exercise in throwing everything that shouldn't be in one song together and still coming up with a beautiful and strange concoction. If Mercury Rev came your way because you took Deserters Songs as a great piece of Americana, avoid this. If you see them as fearless sonic pioneers with a love of psychedelia and pushing the envelope on strange sounds, definitely investigate this.
on 10 October 2008
Don't listen too closely to the above reviews. I am also a huge M.Rev fan and was nervous about buying this release. However, after only a couple of listens I am glad to say that I love this album already. OK, it's quite different to their previous work, but is as unique as is every one of their albums. So get it, listen and absorb. It's gorgeous.
on 23 October 2008
I loved Deserter's Songs and All is Dream, but I couldn't get into Secret Migration at all, therefore I was quite hesitant about buying this as I too thought they had lost their charm, and therefore lost me. However I got the free accompanying mp3 Strange Attractor from Mrev's website, and I absolutely love that. I think they shot themselves in the foot a little by not making it just one album though, because in my opinion you really need to play them together to get the whole experience. And taken as one it might appeal to FSoL / Amorphous Androgynous fans, as it's far deeper into ambient psych then their previous offerings, and because that's my area personally I find it glorious! This isn't a return to previous form, this is evolution. The 5 stars are for both parts though. If you have this I strongly urge you to get Strange Attractor, else it's just incomplete.