Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Revved Up

I first heard Mercury Rev's Yerself Is Steam while volunteering
at KCMU in 1991. My first thought: Wow. Pop-psych nirvana (small
"n"). Tracks like "Chasing a Bee," "Coney Island Cyclone"—I loved 'em
all...even if I had no idea what David Baker was going on about. It
didn't matter. It was the era of the Flaming Lips and the Spacemen 3, and the vibe was king. Even the hazy neon-green packaging was cool.

Click here for the non-LP track video, "Car Wash Hair"

Then came 1993's Boces, and I wondered if I hadn't overeacted to the Buffalo's band's first record. Goofy cover aside, I didn't think their follow-up was bad; just that it was, by comparison, underwhelming.

So I moved on to other mus-
ical space cases, like Spiritual-
ized and Spectrum, and forgot
all about the Rev
(I also lost
interest in the post-indie lab-
el Flaming Lips, but that's a
story for another day...).

From time to time, I would hear a Rev track on KCMU as it turn-
ed into KEXP or I would catch a video, like the Anton Corbijn-directed "Goddess on a Hiway."
Line-up changes aside—like Jonathan Donahue taking over from Baker—they still sounded good. But I remained underwhelmed.

Then, a few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to review this year's Snowflake Midnight, and found myself impressed all over again. Since I haven't heard any of their albums since Boces from start to finish, maybe I've been missing out or maybe the group really did lose the plot for a while there. I have no idea, but this record is a stunner. Click here for the short version; read on the full-length review.

"Butterfly's Wings"

Mercury Rev, Snowflake Midnight, Yep Roc

When they emerged from upstate New York
in 1989, pundits proclaimed Mercury Rev
neo-psychedelic guitar gods to rank with the
Flaming Lips (with whom they shared num-
erous ties). On Snowflake Midnight, the
intrepid trio enters the world of the machine.
Rev's seventh full-length, in other words, is an electronic record. Filled with references to forest creatures, it represents more of a change in tools than direction, since the introspective threesome retain their ties to psychedelia and shoegaze. Better yet, longtime associate Dave Fridmann (the 'Lips, Sleater-Kinney) handles the production reins, and the results, though initially surprising, nev-
er sounds like the work of dilettantes. While all nine selections ebb and flow in volume, like a shortwave radio half-heard in a dream, a few maintain a steadier motorik-meets-mutant disco pulse, such as "Snowflake in a Hot World" and "Runaway Raindrop," which re-
call New Order or the Pet Shop Boys after a dose of Thoreau (no, really). With Jonathan Donahue's woozy vocals bobbing along the waves, Snowflake Midnight proves that a veteran band can re-invent themselves without losing the plot. The revitalized Rev issued the disc alongside instrumental download companion Strange Attractor, available through their website.

Endnote: Though Strange Attractor is a free download, us-
ers first need to sign up for the Mercury Rev newsletter (hey,
there's no such thing as a free lunch). And though I normally
try not to judge CDs by their covers, the backlit bunny photo-
graph emblazoned across Snowflake Midnight only makes
me like it more. Images from the band, their label, and Amazon.

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