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Mercury Simon Jay Catling , December 2nd, 2013 21:05

Daniel O'Sullivan has already fronted one knockout album this year – releasing, alongside Alexander Tucker the shamanistic electronic pop of Grumbling Fur's Glynnaestra. With that record burying its own pop tropes amidst a wider picture of trick-of-the-light shades and psychedelic fabric, there isn't quite the amount of 'what-the-fuck'-ness going on when you sit down to listen to Miracle's Mercury that there might otherwise have been. Still, the Mothlite/Guapo singer (and sometime Stephen O'Malley collaborator) hooking up with Zombi's Steve Moore to front up an album of winning hooks and choruses is as incongruous as when Storm & Stress/Don Caballero bassist Eric Emm teamed up in 2012 with Professor Murder's Jesse Cohen, to release a set of blissed-out retrograde summer hits as Tanlines.

Emm and Cohen pulled that off with aplomb, and O'Sullivan and Moore achieve likewise here. However, given the latter's penchant for Goblin-style synth panorama as half of Zombi, and the former's own wanderings down dark rabbit holes throughout his career, from Guapo to Æthenor and Ulver, Mercury is a far more nocturnally evocative affair. A chrome-glinting matrix of a pop record, it certainly isn't without heart, but it's encased in an icy cool aesthetic, with obelisk-like synthetic structures and oscillations hustling and harrying O'Sullivan's vocals into their hard-lined avenues. Miracle and Grumbling Fur share a sense that even their most immediate songs are bedded on top of a sprawling myriad of more subtle details; but where Glynnaestra seemed to shift organically around, like vines clambering over each other as they grew, Mercury feels more mathematic, hard-edged and diligently constructed.

This, however, only serves to heighten the purpose of O'Sullivan's murmured vocals, rich with feeling against the flawlessly glistening backdrop behind him. It also brings into sharp focus the record's moments of genuine playfulness: 'Something Is Wrong's' reimagines all the best bits of Depeche Mode's Music For The Masses as one urgently-delivered hook-laden package; 'Falling Into Night's' giddily infectious chorus is catchier than anything that'll come pre-penned from the X Factor vaults for this year's winner (no, really). Putting these songs next to something like Æthenor's 'Laudanum Tusk' or Zombi's 'Earthly Powers' heightens their potential for absurdity, but there is more going on here than just simply avant-garde dudes writing radio hits; Mercury gives off a sense of relish, of two sonic nomads attempting to fit their wild-eyed ideas into the confines of pop music, bringing all their natural creative whims for embellishment and expanse with them for the ride, but forcing themselves to pack them in tightly.

The opening three-quarters of this album are filled with similar instances of the pair striving to fight off the temptation to plunge the whole record truly into the dark, right from the juddering tremolo reverberations of the distinctly gothic opener, 'Good Love', balanced out by twinkling interjections and O'Sullivan's sighing intonations. 'Automatic And Visible' is a clashing, cloying track that sweeps vocals along in its path, even as it changes direction from a minimalist verse to a large, squelchy breakdown. The back-to-back of the title track and 'Breathless', meanwhile, are contrasting portals into Miracle's sound. The former is a smooth, gently propulsive ride through the duo's aural undergrowth, all hard edges and abrasion hewn off in favour of drones and isolated beats. The dissonance returns with 'Breathless,' which stylistically fits its title, electronic percussive inhalations guiding the track through a giallo-esque brooding atmosphere that would perhaps be the closest effort here aligned with Moore's work as Zombi, were it not for the colossal 10-minute closer 'Organon.'

After eight tracks of attempting to reign in their exploratory excess, 'Organon' feels like a release of sorts, all those textural ideas and sound palettes that were discarded in favour of immediacy now patched together in a brilliantly immersive piece that settles around a constant, crisp rhythmic pattern. Human and mechanical murmurs are brought in and out of focus, before the whole piece gradually fades away. It brings to a close, on a deliciously refined note, an album that's at times overtly brash but always intelligent when being so.