Once upon a time, there was a band called Mercury Rev, who made some of the best Ye Olde Rock'n'Rolle in the music world.
But long before Mercury Rev began making Ye Olde Rock'n'Rolle, they made sometimes noisy, more often brilliant psychedelica. Rich, panoramic music is paired with some truly entrancing songwriting, making this among their best albums to date.
Somebody plays chopsticks as the album opens, with Jonathan Donahue intoning softly, "I stabbed myself back into the night/One heel in front, one heel behind/Life in the Empire State/Angels and devils before my eyes..." I think it's meant to be a "first time in New York" story-song, especially when the horns, rhythm and bass all explode in a mad parody of city traffic.
Things only get better with the following songs: swirling pop songs, explosive bass-rockers that Queens of the Stone Age wouldn't be ashamed of, and hilariously eerie little jazz-edged numbers. It follows the initial arrival at the Empire State Building, getting used to the place, first mature love, losing virginity, and watching the sun rise after a wild night. And finally Donahue and Co. end the album with "Peaceful Night," a fatigued-sounding jazz ballad.
Mercury Rev's more recent works have been more fantastical in nature. But "See You On The Other Side" predates that, with a very different theme: Growing up in the city. The entire album reflects that, from the jazzy piano and brass to the sound of traffic and sirens.
At the same time, it has the sweet feeling of being dazzled by the bright lights and exuberent nightlight. "With a wink from a starlet's eye a string of pearls come to life," Donahue sings softly, sounding almost overwhelmed by the music. "Who knows what black and crazy thoughts swim inside a girlfriend's heart?/No brighter jewel is there above than the gem of a girl still in love..."
Mercury Rev's thick, layered sound is in full force here, with thick layers of guitars, bass, bowed saw and wurtlizer, along with electric piano and sweeping strings. It's a credit to their talents that they can convey both the beauty and the chaos of a major city like New York, all through instrumental music.
"See You On The Other Side" is among Mercury Rev's most exceptional albums, and for this band, that's saying something. Beautiful, wrenching and bittersweet.