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Mercury Rev
Snowflake Midnight Luke Turner , October 10th, 2008 16:33

Mercury Rev

Following the below par Secret Migration, it seemed as if Mercury Rev had become stuck up some lonely creek (lyrics of flora, fauna and autumnal weather mired in the same-old psychedelic squall of Grasshopper's guitars) from which they perhaps couldn't return. For a band who channeled the profound lunacy of their notorious early work into a record as elegant as Deserter's Songs, it was something of a disappointment that Mercury Rev seemed to have reached a creative impasse.

On Snowflake Midnight, however, they've escaped the eddies to clamber ashore for explorations of pastures - for them - new, and in the process have reanimated their old magic.

As Mercury Rev explained in their recent Quietus interview, this has been achieved by an almost unconscious shifting of their modus operandi. The necessity of moving studios created a new dynamic, the discovery and reappraisal of long abandoned pieces of gear creating never-ending jams that the band eventually whittled down into the nine tracks here, the 11 on accompanying disk Strange Attractor, and the hours more the band say they still have stocked up.

So the guitar-based pastoral psychedelia of yore has been abandoned in favour of an album of tight, crunching beats, rolls of piano, and layer upon layer of synthesisers and samples. Sometimes, the effects used - disembodied, X-Files theme whistles and toddlers chuckling on 'Butterfly's Wings', crying on 'A Squirrel And I (Holding On... And Then Letting Go)', and the sound of water 'Senses on Fire' feel a little overdone. Similarly, some of the more obvious lyrical devices (reflected in clumsy song titles like 'People Are So Unpredictable'), come across as hippyish guff.

However, whimsy is avoided throughout by Mercury Rev's embracing of a propulsive approach to their rhythms, and just sheer depth of David Fridmann's production. 'Runaway Raindrops' and the crescendo to 'People Are So Unpredictable' use submarine, booming detonations to surge things along, while on the likes of 'Dream Of A Young Girl As A Flower', skittish rattles tickle the whole into life. This track is pertinent too, as it's one where the elongated, meandering approach to songwriting can most be felt, two or three songs existing, perfectly comfortably, within the same piece. The same goes for the electronic burble of 'Senses on Fire', which bears more in common to the work of, say, Ulrich Schnauss, than anything in Mercury Rev's previous output.

Despite the few gripes, the overall effect of Snowflake Midnight is one of pronounced charm, a band discovering themselves anew in a flurry of experimentation and unfettered appreciation that they need not be confined by self -(or label)-imposed boundaries. As ever with Mercury Rev, Snowflake Midnight is an album that gradually reveals its subtleties and strengths, like a landscape unveiled emerging fresh after the thaw.